State Police honors acts of bravery at Thursday ceremony

Annual ceremony honors acts of bravery, courage that go beyond call of duty

John Fanning was on the way to visit his mother on Memorial Day when something unusual happened.

Sitting inside his car on a bridge in New Orleans, he witnessed a woman several cars ahead of him abruptly stop her vehicle. Within seconds, she exited the car and slid onto a railing alongside the bridge, dangling her feet more than 150 feet above the Mississippi River while apparently considering a jump.

He immediately recognized the act as an apparent suicide attempt. So he parked his car in the middle of the bridge, the Crescent City Connection, which ties New Orleans to its West Bank neighbors, and hurried to her side.

She told him, “I’m going to go for a swim,” Fanning, 61, recalled Thursday.

They exchanged a few words before Fanning took matters into his own hands, grabbing her arms and pulling her off the rail to safety, he said.

The instinctive act earned him one of several Lifesaving Awards doled out Thursday morning in Baton Rouge during the 2014 Louisiana State Police Awards Ceremony.

“The quick and decisive actions by Mr. Fanning prevented the woman from carrying out her plan and taking her own life,” Lt. J.B. Slaton, the master of ceremonies, said.

The annual ceremony honors mostly law enforcement — but also some civilians such as Fanning — for acts of bravery and courage that go beyond the call of duty.

Louvenia Landry, a communications officer, was on her way home from work when she recognized a stolen vehicle and was able to notify authorities while following the vehicle until help arrived. The act earned her one of about three dozen Meritorious Service Awards handed out at the ceremony.

Col. Mike Edmonson, the State Police superintendent, made sure to specially recognize all communication officers, describing them in general as that “reassuring voice on the other side of the radio” responsible for guiding troopers through often nerve-wracking situations.

The ceremony also recognized a handful of troopers involved in an August hostage situation at a bank in Tensas Parish, which borders Mississippi north of Natchez, Mississippi. A crisis management team on scene successfully negotiated the release of one hostage, Patricia White, before storming into the Tensas State Bank in an attempt to save the other two hostages. The move prompted Fuaed Abdo Ahmed, the man holding the hostages, to fatally shoot the other two hostages, Jay Warbington and Tamara H. McDaniel, just before SWAT team members riddled Ahmed with bullets, killing him.

Despite the deaths of the two hostages, the officers were praised for saving White and minimizing additional potential terror.

The uniformed Trooper of the Year Award went to Trooper 1st Class Kevin Cefalu, a member of the DWI Task Force in Troop L, which consists of St. Helena, Tangipahoa, Washington and St. Tammany parishes. Cefalu made 155 DWI arrests in 2013, Slaton said, bringing the total number of DWI arrests under his belt since his assignment there to more than 900.

The ceremony ended with a special presentation by Edmonson to Janice Long, of Denham Springs, the wife of retired Trooper Gerald W. Long. Sometime after her husband’s death in 2000, Long’s home burned down and the fire took with it the majority of her belongings, including a shadow box that contained her deceased husband’s academy picture, commission and badge.

On Thursday morning, she received an emotional replacement, with Edmonson noting that such mementos serve as an important link between the living and the dead, if only to spur memories that fire can’t destroy.

Follow Ben Wallace on Twitter @_BenWallace.