West Feliciana deputy drowns while fishing Friday

Ernest James, a 30-year veteran of the West Feliciana Parish Sheriff’s Office who also served his community as a Baptist pastor, drowned Friday afternoon while fishing in a pond near Sligo Road.

James, 55, was fishing with a friend when their boat overturned around noon, said West Feliciana Parish Chief Deputy Randy Metz.

A rescue was attempted but failed.

Someone called 911 and deputies responded and found James’ body about 30 minutes after arriving, Metz said. The drowning remains under investigation.

James served as pastor of the Sherobee Missionary Baptist Church in West Feliciana Parish, said Lt. Col. Archer Lee, the sheriff’s office’s chief of detectives.

James worked in transportation for the West Feliciana Parish Jail, Metz said, and he also served as crossing guard for all four West Feliciana Parish schools.

“This is a tough situation for our community. Ernest James was a good leader, a key leader here,” said West Feliciana Parish Schools Superintendent Hollis G. Milton.

“I saw him yesterday at one of the schools doing some training. He and the other officers were joking around that they were waiting to see the principal,” Milton said.

West Feliciana Parish Sheriff’s Lt. Darrel Roan is a minister at James’ church and his first cousin.

“He was a true man of God. He loved God, he loved fishing and he lived hunting,” Roan said.

“If he had a frown on his face, you knew something was really wrong,” Roan said. “Everybody knew him and everybody loved him.”

The last time Roan saw James was Friday morning, when he passed him working as a crossing guard on U.S. 61.

“I waved, smiled and honked at him,” Roan said. “He waved and smiled back.”

Roan said there was something James always told him about death: “He used to say that he wasn’t ready to die yet but his bags were packed. He was prepared.”

James’ wife, Sally James, is a teacher at West Feliciana Middle School. One son, Tico James, also serves as a deputy at the West Feliciana Parish Sheriff’s Office, Lee said. James also has another son, John Armstrong Jr., Roan said.