Alton Richard, a spry 91-year-old who still tended to his yard and enjoyed the outside, was trying to beat the bad weather headed Monday afternoon to his Baton Rouge neighborhood.
Dawn Ballmer, 62, said her father had just left his 92-year-old wife inside to go rake the leaves in preparation for grass-cutting that day.
Authorities said that’s when a neighbor’s tree split in high winds shortly before 10:18 a.m., went over the fence and fell on Richard, killing the native of White Castle who had raised his four children there before he and his wife, Marie, moved to Baton Rouge in 2005.
“It was a freak accident. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” said Ballmer, who spoke Monday afternoon as workers with a tree service loaded the cut-up remains of the fallen tree that killed her father.
The winds thought to bring down the old tree at Richard’s Sharlane Drive home off Bluebonnet Boulevard were the precursor to a severe storm front that prompted a tornado watch later Monday for the Baton Rouge area, the Florida Parishes and parishes farther north along the Mississippi River.
After-school activities at all East Baton Rouge elementary schools, which let out at 3:25 p.m., were canceled for Monday due to the weather, while principals at middle and high schools, which let out an hour earlier, are given the discretion to make that call if they chose to, said Adonica Duggan, a spokeswoman for the school system.
There's no plan at moment to close schools Tuesday, but school officials are monitoring the weather in case things change, Duggan said.
East Feliciana Parish schools let out early, at 2:15 p.m., due to weather, school officials said. The tornado watch extended into southeastern and central Mississippi and was expected to last until 9 p.m. Monday.
The National Weather Service had put out a wind advisory Monday morning even before the tornado watch. That earlier advisory had been issued for southeast Louisiana until 6 p.m., with winds possible from 25 to 30 mph with higher gusts.
Andrew Ansorge, meteorologist with weather service’s Slidell office, said no tornado had been reported in the Baton Rouge area by Monday evening. One was spotted five miles southeast of Marksville earlier in the day in a rice field.
He said the highest recorded wind at Baton Rouge Metropolitan Airport was 43 mph at 4 p.m.
Ansorge said the front is expected to bring colder temperatures on Wednesday evening and early Thursday.
Eldon Ledoux, spokesman for the St. George Fire Department, said that around that time of the winds toppled that tree on Sharlane Drive, firefighters had received other calls about high winds causing trees and limbs to fall on power lines in the same general area.
Ledoux said responding firefighters had to use extrication techniques to clear debris from Richard’s body and around him so first-responders could render aid.
But parish emergency officials said Richard was already deceased. East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Dr. William "Beau" Clark said Richard, 8821 Sharlane Drive, suffered blunt force trauma to the head and was pronounced dead at the scene.
Ballmer, the daughter, said her father was a World War II U.S. Navy veteran who served on a ship based in Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii a few years after the historic attack that sparked the nation’s entry into the war.
As Richard grew older, he often remarked he didn’t know if he would make it another year, despite his solid health. Still, the whole experience has still been a shock for her family and her mother, Ballmer said.
“You know the only thing I’m thankful is he always said (that) he wanted to go fast, he didn’t want to suffer, and they’re saying it hit him with blunt force trauma and he didn’t suffer,” Ballmer said.