Lt. Edward Wheeler had one chance to save the driver in front of him who had whipped around a lowered train crossing arm, then froze on the tracks as the train approached — he followed her there.
Pulling up behind her vehicle, Wheeler flashed his lights and blared his horn. The driver moved.
"Ten seconds of her moving, the train blew through," said Wheeler, an officer with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff's Office.
The driver was safe, and so was Wheeler, but that seems to be an after-thought for the lieutenant.
"The good Lord puts you in the right place at the right time," Wheeler said.
For his actions that day at the intersection of Airline Highway and South Choctaw Avenue Drive, Wheeler was honored Thursday night with the Sheriff's Office Lifesaving Award, along with 10 other officers, at the annual Sheriff's Office awards ceremony that honored top officers in numerous categories.
Wheeler, who's been in law enforcement for 30 years and with the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office for 12 of those years, also received a Distinguished Service Award, along with fellow officer Sgt. Kevin Johnson, for a law enforcement encounter that justified the use of deadly force but ended peacefully.
Between them, the two officers were able to distract, then, using a stun gun, disarm a man advancing on them with a 3½ foot-long saber, telling the officers he was on a heroin "ride" and was going to kill them both.
"We were able to safely disarm him," said Wheeler, who is a uniform patrol supervisor at the Sheriff's Office Central substation — a role for which he was also recognized Thursday night.
Named Uniform Patrol Supervisor of the Year, Wheeler said, "I think it's very important to have a really good attitude every day when you come to work and have a positive attitude toward the public."
"Leadership starts at the top and it goes all the way down," he said.
The awards ceremony was established 10 years ago by Sheriff Sid Gautreaux.
"I think it's so important that you know your service is appreciated," Gautreaux told the officers and their family and friends at the event held at Healing Place Church on Highland Road.
"Thank you, thank you for what you do, because it's important," he said.
In addition to Lt. Wheeler, other officers recognized were:
- Deputy Kyle Toups, Uniform Patrol Deputy of the Year
- Cpl. Perry Frith, Detective Deputy of the Year
- Lt. Shawn Lewis Colbert, Detective Supervisor of the Year
- Deputy Yoni Canales, Community Oriented Policing Deputy of the Year
- Sgt. Leroy Griffin, Community Oriented Policing Supervisor of the Year
- Deputy Keola Turner, Communications Deputy of the Year
- Deputy John Dunlap, Corrections Deputy of the Year
- Lt. James Sandridge, Corrections Supervisor of the Year
- Deputy Steve Jones, Civil Division Employee of the Year
- Bridgette Fresina, Administrative/Support Employee of the Year
- Deputy Anthony Lim and Deputy Frank Zapata, Reserve Deputies of the Year
- Joan Edwards, School Crossing Guard of the Year
Also receiving Lifesaving Awards, in addition to Wheeler, were: Deputy Trevor Dismukes, Deputy James Hammett, Lt. Glen LeBlanc, Sgt. Edward Nicholson, Cpl. James Harbin, Cpl. Brandon Gilmore, Sgt. Steven Jones, Cpl. William Head, Deputy Brady Davis and Deputy Devon Johnson.
Sheriff Gautreaux established a new award this year, the Above and Beyond Award, with the inaugural presentation going to Deputy Stephanie Hicks, who works with the East Baton Rouge Truancy and Assessment Service Center.
In Memoriam awards were presented to the families of the Deputy John DePedro Jr., who died on April 19 in an off-duty motorcycle crash, and Lt. Steven Whitstine, who died on May 30 of heart failure while traveling to work with his new K9 partner, who was unharmed.