On one of the last days James Foster Jr. worked as a police officer in Denham Springs, he handed a $100 bill — one of the gifts he’d received for Christmas — to the family of a man he had to arrest for minor traffic warrants.
The money would help the man’s family bond him out of jail.
“They needed it more than I do,” Foster told his friend and fellow officer Keith Scoby, adding that the man’s family planned to eat a holiday dinner of ramen noodles.
Foster figured he was paying the gift forward.
At Foster’s funeral on Saturday morning, law enforcement officials were filled with anecdotes about the 39-year-old Denham Springs motorcycle officer killed in a Monday crash while heading to the scene of an I-12 accident.
He was riding down O’Neal Lane on his police Harley-Davidson about 5:30 p.m., flanked by police cars with lights and sirens on, when he crashed into a Honda sedan that had turned into his path.
He was thrown about 80 feet and landed in the road. The driver was uninjured and cited for failure to yield, police have said. Police do not suspect the driver was intoxicated. Foster was taken to the hospital in critical condition, and he died of his injuries the following day.
His death was the first loss for the Denham Springs Police Department since its founding.
On the force full time for five years, Foster was named Officer of the Year in 2010 and 2013.
Foster’s fellow officers, supervisors and friends described him as having a fastidious attention to detail and a burning curiosity that drove him to learn multiple languages.
One of the languages he learned was Spanish, and Foster sometimes was awakened by late-night calls from co-workers who needed his help with translation, Ford said.
Among the nicknames he earned was “MacGyver,” after the television character, for his ability to fix almost anything. He was the kind of person who would excitedly draw on a paper napkin to explain how rain is formed.
He once arrived, along with his teenage son, at the home of State Police Trooper Roger May to help move a 500-pound gun safe up a flight of stairs, said May, who also was amazed that Foster found a way to do it without a dolly.
The friends also praised his humility.
When he was in a training exercise that hinged on a Spanish-speaking suspect — a test of how an officer handles a language barrier — Foster didn’t reveal that he actually spoke Spanish until the exercise began, Scoby said.
The other officers were shocked and amused.
“We have truly lost a hero in James Foster,” said Denham Springs Police Chief Scott Jones at a funeral for Foster held Saturday morning at Abundant Life Church in Denham Springs.
Jones had one such story himself.
While Jones happened to be riding along with Foster, he watched him arrest a suspect on drug violations. But then while they were transporting that man to jail, Foster slammed on the brakes near Edgewood Drive — to his boss’ total surprise — and jumped from his car, chasing down and arresting a shoplifting suspect who was fleeing in their general direction.
Foster had heard about the situation on the radio and realized he was close enough to intervene. Fortunately, Jones said with a laugh, the patrol car they were driving had enough room for both suspects.
“I never had to light a match under him to light him up,” he added.
Scoby, the Denham Springs officer, had an especially close connection to Foster — the two interviewed for the department as reserve officers on the same day, and their badge numbers were adjacent by the time they both joined — Foster was DS-442, and Scoby is DS-443.
Scoby could remember how intimidating Foster seemed while waiting for one of his last-round interviews — he wore a suit and carried a three-ring binder that was bulging with awards and honors. Nervously, Scoby said he hoped they were hiring two reserve officers and not just one.
Their friendship lasted up until the day of the crash, when Scoby remembers taking the call to respond to an accident and climbing on his motorcycle. Foster had become a member of the motorcycle division only weeks earlier. Scoby remembers him saying, “I’ll see you there,” before riding off.
When the funeral was over, hundreds of officers gathered outside Abundant Life Church beneath an overcast sky as Foster’s casket, wrapped in an American flag, was wheeled out to a waiting white hearse. Denham Springs motorcycle officers, all with their helmets on, lifted the casket into the back, as nearly 100 officers stood in salute.
As the hearse drove about two miles north on Range Avenue, trailed by dozens of police units and dozens more motorcycles, hundreds of Denham Springs residents lined the street, watching silently, many of them holding American flags, as light rain fell.
Foster’s casket was laid to rest at the Denham Springs Memorial Cemetery. He leaves behind a wife and two children.
Follow Daniel Bethencourt on Twitter: @_dbethencourt.