Three NO first responders die in accidents

Three off-duty New Orleans first responders died Sunday, including two firefighters killed in a car crash in Mississippi and an off-duty police officer who was killed in a hit and run after he stepped out of his vehicle following a minor traffic accident.

“Today, we mourn the loss of three brave men who served the city of New Orleans with honor,” said New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu. “Police Officer Rodney Thomas and firefighters Tommy Ashby and Scott Blanchard will be sorely missed by their fellow officers, firefighters and the people they served. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families during this difficult time.”

Both fatal incidents happened early Sunday morning.

Thomas, 52, an eight-year veteran of the New Orleans Police Department’s Second District, was struck and killed after he was in a minor accident and exited his vehicle on the Interstate 10 high-rise in New Orleans East, police said.

“Rodney was a well-liked, hard-working and dedicated police officer,” said Cmdr. Paul Noel, head of the Second District. “He sincerely cared about the people he worked with as well as the countless people he interacted with in this district. He was the type of officer to ‘circle back’ after meeting people and assisting them with a problem, just to check-in with them again to make sure they were OK.”

Thomas leaves behind a wife and two children.

Police described the vehicle that struck Thomas as a white, late-model Porsche Panamera. It is believed to have “extensive” damage to the front passenger side, including a missing light kit and a missing side view mirror.

The Porsche was “driving erratically” when it hit Thomas at around 1 a.m., knocking him to the pavement, police said. Thomas was pronounced dead at a local hospital.

After the accident, the car continued eastbound on I-10, headed toward Slidell.

New Orleans police say the driver, when located, will be booked with fleeing the scene of a fatal accident.

Darlene Cusanza, president and CEO of Crimestoppers of Greater New Orleans, announced a reward of up to $5,000 for information leading to the arrest of the driver of the Porsche and a $1,000 reward for information leading to the location and seizure of the Porsche.

Anyone with information about the incident can call Crimestoppers at (504) 822-1111.

The two New Orleans’ firefighters died Sunday morning from injuries they received in a single-vehicle accident in Long Beach, Miss.

Ashby, 28, of Chalmette, was a nearly six-year veteran, and Blanchard, 27, of Metairie, was a nearly three-year veteran, New Orleans Fire Chief Terry Hardy Sr. said.

“Our sympathy and condolences go out to their families, friends and coworkers,” Hardy said.

Harrison County Coroner Gary Hargrove said Ashby was the driver of a pickup truck that was headed west on U.S. 90 when it ran off the road at a high rate of speed and struck a tree on the median about 1:45 a.m. Blanchard was the front seat passenger. The two men were not wearing seat belts, Hargrove said.

Two other passengers were hospitalized.

Interim Superintendent Timothy McConnell said both men were praised by their commanders and peers for their dedication and talent.

Both men volunteered their time restoring fire stations damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

The Associated Press
contributed to this report.