After being shot three times while directing traffic near an elementary school in Paradis, St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office Cpl. Burt Hazeltine said he is amazed to be out of the hospital less than a week later.
“So many things happened that day that lined up almost perfectly — as far as my backup, my health, my treatment, my transportation — that only God could have orchestrated it,” Hazeltine said Thursday at Shriner’s Hall in Destrehan, where his colleagues had organized a fundraiser to help pay his medical bills.
“I am at home. I am actually out of bed and out in the public, and that amazes me.”
Hazeltine — seated in a wheelchair alongside his wife, Mandy, and wearing a short-sleeved shirt and dark sunglasses — seemed relaxed as he spoke with reporters during his first public appearance since the shooting.
He declined to discuss the incident itself — authorities say a Mississippi man named John DeVillier ambushed Hazeltine after a traffic dispute — because of the “ongoing investigation.”
But up until last Thursday, Hazeltine said, he had directed traffic at that intersection “pretty much every morning, and up until the encounter, it was just pretty much like any other morning.”
“That is one part of my day that always seemed to be the most simple and most routine,” he continued. “That’s the most routine part of my day. The same number of buses turn in; the same number of buses come out every day.”
This time was different.
DeVillier, upset at having to wait at the intersection, exchanged a few words with the deputy, drove off and then returned to the busy roadway a few minutes later, authorities said. He then motioned Hazeltine toward his truck and opened fire through the windshield, the Sheriff’s Office said.
DeVillier, a 58-year-old Navy veteran and former Transportation Security Administration agent, was booked on one count of attempted murder of a police officer, two counts of battery of a police officer and one count of resisting an officer by force. He remains jailed on $1 million bail.
Hazeltine said he realizes the occupational hazards that go along with a career in law enforcement but never thought he would find himself in a situation like that.
“We know it’s a possibility that any day when we leave for work, that it’s possible we won’t come home,” he said. “I never thought it would be me. I work in the ... it’s not a big, urban area. We don’t have a whole lot of violent crime in this area, so I never thought it would happen to me.”
Though eager to get back to work, Hazeltine acknowledged that he ended up a sheriff’s deputy almost by accident: Fourteen years ago, he was recently married, had a young son and was delivering pizzas to get by. He had graduated from LSU with a degree in information systems, and he couldn’t land a job in the field during the recession of the early 2000s.
“It was supposed to be a temporary assignment,” Hazeltine said about becoming a sheriff’s deputy, “just to fill in the gap until I found a real job.”
These days, he has no plans to move on. “My hope is to eventually be restored back to full duty in some capacity,” he said.
Before that happens, Hazeltine will have to fully recover from his wounds, a process that could take a few months. He was struck in the face, torso and arm. “We’re just going to have to wait and see and just take it as it comes,” he said.
The Sheriff’s Office and the local Fraternal Order of Police started a benefit fund for Hazeltine, who has four children. The $10-a-plate fundraiser at the Shriner’s Hall drew scores of people who lined up outside in a light rain.
By lunchtime, more than 3,000 plates had been sold, with thousands more expected to roll out well into the evening.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.