Woman, two children lost in dense St. Martin woods found safe

Woman, children lost in St. Martin Parish woods

Two children who spent 27 hours in dense St. Martin Parish woods after getting lost with an adult were thirsty and hungry but in good health when they were finally rescued Monday night.

“To them I guess it was like an adventure,” said Maj. Ginny Higgins, of the St. Martin Parish Sheriff’s Office, which coordinated search efforts for Landon Sonnier and Taylin Toucheck, both 4, and the woman they got lost with, Heather Gary, 25.

“Their age was a positive thing,” Higgins said. “They were in pretty good spirits. They weren’t crying or upset.”

Gary and her son Landon, along with Gary’s boyfriend, Clyde Louviere, and his daughter, Taylin, took off Sunday afternoon from Louviere’s home near Parks.

The four piled onto one four-wheeler and took off into the woods between Parks and St. Martinville — technically trespassing, Higgins said, on land owned by St. Martin Oil and Gas — and ended up getting stuck in mud.

“Apparently he (Louviere) went to get help, and when he didn’t return in a timely manner she took off with the kids to locate him,” Higgins said. “There are a lot of little roads back there that dead-end near an oilfield site.”

Louviere, who had found a way to call the Sheriff’s Office for help, was detained and jailed by Sheriff’s Office deputies after they learned Louviere had an outstanding warrant in Lafayette Parish for reckless operation of a vehicle.

Louviere remained in the Lafayette Parish Correctional Center on Tuesday. He has a court appearance scheduled Friday.

Higgins said that jailing Louviere did not hamper search efforts, which were run by Sheriff’s Office personnel manning a command center.

State Police helicopters and pilots conducted a bird’s-eye search from above, Trooper 1st Class Stephen Hammons said, while ground search efforts branched out from where the four-wheeler was found stuck in the mud.

That was also near a location on Joel Blanchard Road where a motorist reported seeing Gary and the kids walking Sunday afternoon.

Searchers in uniform had plenty of help from volunteers who started showing up Monday morning. By noon Monday, the number of volunteers grew to 130.

Some were better prepared than others.

“Even though they meant well, some of the people were showing in short shorts or in flip-flops,” Higgins said.

Volunteers who were dressed to search the difficult terrain — in long-sleeve shirts and boots, some with machetes and all terrain vehicles — were welcomed, she said.

Search leaders who were experienced trackers and equipped with radios led teams of volunteers in a coordinated search to find the woman and children, Higgins search.

At 7:37 p.m. Monday a volunteer in a boat found the three near a canal about a mile from where the four-wheeler got stuck. Higgins said she was trying to learn the identity of the man who found Gary and the kids.

“The thickness of those woods,” Higgins said. “You wouldn’t believe it. I didn’t know we had this in our parish.”

Volunteers, the Sheriff’s Office and State Police were joined in the search by Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and K-9 search teams from the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel.