Retired Ascension deputy dies trying to rescue his dog

An Ascension Parish sheriff’s deputy who retired less than a year ago drowned Sunday morning after he dove into a pond, trying to rescue his Yorkshire terrier.

Retired Lt. Sam Vitter, 56, of Prairieville, was looking for his dog after it escaped from under his backyard fence, said Lt. Col. Bobby Webre, an Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office spokesman. The dog had escaped from under the fence several times, and as recently as last week Vitter had found the terrier by the Spanish Oaks pond, so he checked there again.

It’s believed the dog was likely chasing wildlife, Webre said.

Vitter dove in and did not resurface.

Authorities, who were notified at 10:30 a.m., brought Vitter’s body out of the pond at 2 p.m.

“This is a great loss to this department,” Sheriff Jeff Wiley said in a news release. “Sam was not only a long-serving deputy in our department, he was a great leader who devoted his entire life to serving others.”

Vitter’s keys, along with the purple-and-gold sandals he often wore on the weekends, were found by the water. The Yorkshire terrier made it out of the pond and was barking at the water from the bank. The barking, along with the keys and sandals, prompted a neighbor to call police.

Vitter was very well-liked when he retired in December after 32 years with the Sheriff’s Office, Webre said. The deputy was in charge of the department’s night shift, with 14 deputies under him.

Major Kevin Hanna, who has served in the Sheriff’s Office along with Vitter for more than 30 years and learned from Vitter when he was just starting out, adding that Vitter turned down a chance to switch to the day shift because he loved his job and wanted to be where the work was busiest.

“He never lost sight through 32 years of law enforcement of what the job was, and that was serving the public above all,” Hanna said.

Webre did not know whether Vitter was a good swimmer. He said Vitter’s wife had never actually seen him swim. But he was an avid fisherman and owned a motorized fishing boat. Fishing and LSU football were his two main passions.

Vitter is survived by his wife, Sandy, who also served as an Ascension Parish deputy sheriff, and a son serving in the Navy. Vitter’s family was not available for comment Sunday.

Follow Daniel Bethencourt on Twitter, @_dbethencourt.