GONZALES — As Sgt. Chad Stafford raced over the ground toward a 2-year-old struggling to stay afloat in a pond Tuesday, it seemed an agonizingly long distance, at least 100 yards.
Stafford, a deputy with the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office, learned later it was shorter than that, about 77 yards.
It was probably the fastest 77 yards he’d ever run.
The Sheriff’s Office held a news conference Thursday to recognize Stafford’s rescue of a little boy who fell into a pond on the grounds of the Mansions of Ivy Lakes apartment complex in Gonzales.
Stafford just happened to be at the apartments that day to serve civil papers. “I’m grateful for the recognition,” Stafford said at the news conference, but he said he had only done “what anybody would do.”
Stafford said he was speaking with a resident of the complex at around 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, seeking help in locating a former resident, when they heard a child’s hysterical cries and realized a toddler had fallen into a large pond in the center of the complex.
Stafford was at one end of the long pond and could see the little boy, about five or six feet away from land, struggling in the water at the other end.
By the time Stafford ran along the bank and jumped into the pond, only the child’s feet were above water, and the child’s head and torso were going under.
Stafford said the water was over his own head, and he didn’t feel the ground beneath his feet until he swam closer to the bank, with the child under his arm.
The child immediately began coughing up water when Stafford pulled him from the water, Stafford said.
“To my knowledge, he never lost consciousness,” he said.
The boy’s 5-year-old sister, who had been standing nearby and seemed stunned watching the scene, began to cry when her little brother began to cough and cry and look around, Stafford said.
Acadian Ambulance was called and determined the boy was fine, he said.
The apartment resident whom Stafford had met knocked on a few doors of the complex and located the children’s mother, who spoke little English, Stafford said.
He understood the mother thought she had latched the apartment door and was upstairs when the children left the apartment.
Sheriff Jeff Wiley said the incident was referred to child protection services for a survey of the home, but that the Sheriff’s Office thinks the event was an accident and not dereliction on the mother’s part.
Stafford, 40, has been with the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office for close to 16 years, serving 12 of those years as a patrol deputy, before becoming a civil process server with the department.
He said he goes regularly to the Mansions at Ivy Lakes apartment complex in his work, in part because a resident there is a bail bondsman to whom Stafford often delivers papers when someone bonds out of jail.
Usually, Stafford said, the large, gated apartment complex is alive with activity, with people jogging or walking their dog or just out visiting.
But on Tuesday, when the little boy fell into the water, “That day, nobody was there,” Stafford said.
“All that screaming and nobody” around, he said.
Stafford said he’s not sure if the child’s screams he heard were from the little boy’s sister or were from the little boy himself.
“Thank goodness he (Stafford) was where he was,” Wiley said.