In first months on job, St. John sheriff faces hardest test of his life

Print
Email
|

wwltv.com

Posted on February 5, 2013 at 11:45 PM

Updated Wednesday, Feb 6 at 5:10 PM

Angela Hill / Eyewitness News
Email: ahill@wwltv.com | Twitter: @ahillwwl

ST. JOHN, La. -- Imagine getting the job of your dreams only to face not one, not two, but three disasters in the first two months.

How would you handle it?

Mike Tregre was sworn in as sheriff of St. John Parish on July 1, 2012. It was one of the happiest days of his life.

Forty five days later would be the worst day of his life.

Two of his deputies were murdered and two seriously injured in a shooting rampage in the early morning hours of Aug. 16. It was the worst event in the history of the department.

We drove with him down the road where the initial shooting of Deputy Scott Boyington took place.

“So when I drove up they were putting him in the ambulance right here, and I managed to speak to him for a few minutes, and all he could say was, they went that way,” Tregre said.

So the new sheriff took off "that way.”

“He was talking but he was in extreme pain,” Tregre said.

It is pitch dark. He is listening to the police monitor.

“So I am in this vehicle and I’m on this road and I’m going to see what is happening and where everybody's at,” he said.

He was heading toward a trailer park a short distance away.

“I had my window down so I could hear what was happening. I was in this area and I could hear gunshots, multiple gunshots,” he said. “Didn’t know where they were coming from.”

And then there was silence.

“So from lots of gunfire to total silence – that’s the part when I knew things aren’t good.”

In the darkness three more of his deputies had been shot. Jeremy Triche, 27, and Brandon Nielsen, 34, were dead. Jason Triche was badly wounded.

Six people have been arrested and charged in the chaos of that August morning.

The horror of that would have been enough for any sheriff to last a lifetime. Little did Mike Tregre know, it was just the beginning.

Thirteen days after the slaughter of his men came Hurricane Isaac, a category one storm.

The parish thought it would be fine. The sheriff did, too, until he drove along old Hwy. 51.

“It was rolling rapids across the stretch of the highway. It was just pouring over, I mean pouring, like white water rapids,” he said. “There was no stopping it. I could see we are going to flood. I had officers in the car and I said we are going to flood, all of us.”

He was unfortunately right.

Between his deputies and the National Guard, over 6000 residents were rescued from the rushing waters.

“I remember seeing them jumping into the water fully dressed wearing their bulletproof vests, jump in the water, rescuing 50-, 60-, 70-year-old people swimming down the street with ice chests.”

And his own street was not spared.

“A couple days later the water was still coming up, this was the furthest. I had to stop here. This was the furthest I could go,” he said. “And you know your house is down there and it is under. I knew it. It's done.”

One third of his officers lost everything.

“Some lost half their possessions, some had some damage, but not one person quit. Not one officer quit.”

And not one St. John Parish resident was lost to Isaac.

But within days there was yet another near catastrophe.

As hundreds gathered at the disaster recovery center, a man dressed in military fatigues walks in, mumbles something to a woman helping at the center, then walks out.

She was suspicious. The woman quickly told officers on site that she saw him walk to his car and get a gun out of the trunk.

“The officer came out, came around in the darkness and grabbed him, and sure enough he was standing there with an AR-15 in his arms. He had it loaded. He had a Glock."

The sheriff believes a catastrophe was averted.

“He had us easy picking,” he said. “Probably 400 people he could have done a mass casualty with no problem.”

When the sheriff and deputies went to the man’s trailer, it was another horror story.

“As soon as they opened the door, snakes started coming out.”

Big, big snakes – pythons.

“The snakes started wrapping around one of the officers.”

Tregre's first two months as sheriff were a continuing trial, but the most difficult moments, he said, were telling the families of the murdered deputies.

“The family see a couple of officers get out of the my vehicle, but then they see me, and that’s when the screaming starts. That’s when they know when they see the sheriff here. That’s not good. Those things will haunt me for the rest of my life.”

Were there ever tears?

“After seeing your own family of officers killed and you flood and lose everything and you can’t cry. You need to be checked out. We are all human. I know we are supposed to be tough and brave and we watch TV and see those actors, but this is real life.”

In spite of spending 23 years in the department, nothing could have prepared him for his first 60 days as sheriff.

“There is no book to read, no class to take. I live by faith. Faith got me this far in life and faith will take me the rest of the way.”

Faith and the wife, who is his biggest supporter.

"She is my backup. She's my friend. We have been married for 22, 23 years and we are in this together.”

This son of a bricklayer feels he was raised by the community who elected him.

“Black, white, rich, poor, this side of the river, that side of the river,” he said. “I have a debt that I owe a lot of people that I just do the best I can each day.”

Print
Email
|