Before his death in a hit-and-run last June, Eric Fabre had a reputation for being able to fix anything.
A senior at LSU preparing for a career in wildlife management, Fabre had just finished repairing one of the university’s airboats. He was planning to take it out on the water June 21.
The night before, though, his motorcycle was struck from behind by a red sedan speeding down Airline Highway near Old Hammond Highway in Baton Rouge. The 20-year-old native of Slidell was pronounced dead at the scene. Seven months later, the driver of the sedan — authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Janneh Trench, 35, of Vacherie — has yet to be found.
The airboat too has been out of sight all these months, sitting unused. That’s finally changing.
On Friday, Fabre’s classmates and colleagues at LSU’s School of Renewable Natural Resources pulled the boat in front of Efferson Hall and officially named it the “R.V. Eric Fabre.” The R.V., or research vessel, was then christened by Fabre’s girlfriend, Tyler Tycer, who opted against Champagne, splashing the vessel instead with bottled water.
“Eric is on cloud nine right now because we’re all celebrating that his name is on an airboat,” said Tycer. “If he were here, I’d never hear the end of that.”
The boat has little touches suggesting who it’s named after.
“There’s a pintail!” Fabre’s mother, Milisa Hubbard, exclaimed, staring at a flying duck emblazoned along the side of the airboat. “That was his bird.”
Students plan to take the newly christened airboat into the Louisiana swamp later this month, once duck season is over. It should be the first of many such trips.
“The research vessel Eric Fabre should be going for another decade or two,” said Andy Nyman, a professor of wildlife management. “It’s going to be around awhile.”
A friend of the family has also established a scholarship in Fabre’s name.
Nyman said Fabre was a promising student and is much missed.
“The fact that the dirtbag who did this is still out there is awful,” the professor said. “But I want to forget about him. I want to remember Eric.”
Part of what prompted Friday’s boat christening, however, was the hope that by conjuring Fabre’s memory, however briefly, people who know the whereabouts of Trench might come forward.
“This person that’s out there could very well do this to someone else,” said Eric’s father, Jack Fabre. “We’d hate for some other family to go through this tragedy.”
Police have said they were able to tie Trench to the accident after finding the sedan abandoned, and burned, in a parking lot on Erie Street. Investigators searching through the wreckage found burned paperwork with Trench’s name, the arrest warrant says. The car belongs to a woman whom Trench divorced, although she told police she’d been letting him drive the car.
Eric Fabre switched his major to wildlife management after first trying engineering. His father was not surprised, given how much time his son spent outdoors from an early age.
“He would go out at night hunting, fishing, frogging,” his father recalled. “He did it all. He was a little Huck Finn.”
The young man first met Nyman a year ago when he took the professor’s Principles of Wildlife Management class. Nyman said, though, that he really started to get to know his new student when boats began breaking down at the college and Fabre repeatedly came to the rescue, bringing with him a memorable work ethic.
“He never asked, ‘Am I done yet?’ ” Nyman said. “He always said, ‘Let me try.’ ”
Several of those who knew him recounted stories about Fabre, including Fabre’s own ability to spin a yarn.
“So he would come in the morning and we would undoubtedly get this hilarious rendition of what had happened at the bar, at Pluckers, last night,” said Kristin DeMarco, a grad student. “The man could do impressions. You could just see what was happening.”
His younger sister, Allie Hubbard, 9, drew a lot of laughs.
“I looked up to my brother not only because he was a role model, but also because he was taller than me,” the girl said.
She said her big brother took her on her first hunting trip and would fill the conversation with what he knew about the outdoors.
“Whenever I look at a tree, I think of my brother,” Allie said.
Tycer offered a few good-natured digs at the foibles of Fabre, including his tendency to stretch a 30-second response into a 30-minute story, the times he was late because he was working and his obliviousness to aspects of his attire.
“You always knew he was there because he always wore those boots that squeaked obnoxiously loud,” she recalled, mimicking the squeaks.
Tycer said the couple had talked about getting married, but she only learned after he died that he was about to surprise her and pop the question. At the funeral, in her eulogy, she addressed the unasked question.
“I wore a white dress and told him that the answer would have been ‘Yes’ if he had been there,” she said. “He knew that.”
Follow Charles Lussier on Twitter, @Charles_Lussier.