Jeffery Howell

Jeffery Howell, 46. Image from Facebook.

When Jeffery Howell would drop by to visit, the sound of his approaching dump truck would bring a smile to everyone's face, his nephew, Dylan Davis, recalled.

"He was just one of those infectious people," Davis said.

Now, his family and friends are mourning the loss of the 46-year-old Pearl River man who was killed Saturday night during what the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office has described as an altercation between two large groups of people on a sandbar on the West Pearl River.

Howell, an avid fisher and hunter who loved gatherings with his large family of siblings, died of blunt force trauma to the head, according to the parish Coroner's Office.

He had undergone surgery to remove a brain tumor just three or four weeks before the incident, Davis said. The staples were still visible. 

The Sheriff's Office has released few details about the events that led to Howell's death, which the coroner ruled a homicide.

Two people, though, have been arrested and booked on second-degree murder: Cameron Alphonso, 21, who was arrested Sunday, and Blaine Manalle, 20, who was arrested Monday. Both are from Slidell. 

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Manalle worked briefly as a corrections deputy with the St. Tammany Sheriff's Office from September to December of 2016. Spokesman Scott Lee said that Manalle, who would have been 18 at the time, was terminated during her probationary period because she proved unable to learn how to use her radio for communication.

Two other people have been booked on disturbing the peace in connection with the altercation: Alden Kindergran, 22, of Slidell, who was arrested Sunday, and Thomas Jones, 23, of Pearl River, who was arrested Tuesday.

Howell was very close to the Jones family, according to Davis and family friend Clayton Harper, but especially to Thomas Jones.

"Tommy Jones is one of his best friends, but that’s an understatement," Davis said. "That was his brother. The Jones family and Howell family grew up together. That's how it's always been."

Howell was with Jones and members of that family when an argument turned physical Saturday. The Sheriff's Office has not said anything about the cause of the fight, but around the small town of Pearl River, people are saying that the incident began when Howell and the group of people he was with asked the other group to clean up the litter they'd left on the sandbar.

"The river for us is a way of life," Davis said. "That's our happiness, our fun, our hobby." Many families, including the Howells and the Joneses, have camps on the river.

Harper, who uses a sandbar farther up the West Pearl River from the one where the fight broke out, said that just the weekend before he had noticed trash left in the area he frequents and had even posted a picture of the mess on his Facebook page.

But even if Howell was annoyed by the litter, Davis and Harper are convinced that the affable outdoorsman was not the one who began the fight.

"He was the last guy to start a confrontation," said Harper, who attended Pearl River High School with Howell; both played football there. "He was always happy, always smiling. I wasn't there, and I don't know what happened, but I know Jeff Howell. I can't imagine him being the aggressor in any situation."

Davis said, however, that his uncle would stand up for what he felt was right. "He wouldn't back down from a fight, but he never did look for a fight," he said.

Katie Moore of WWL-TV contributed to this report.

Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.