Bogalusa teen honored by state

Published 2:03 am Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) awarded five people, including a Bogalusa resident, with Citizens Meritorious Service Awards at a Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meeting in Baton Rouge on Thursday, Sept. 3.

The LDWF honored Paul L. Page, 17, of Bogalusa; Diane Leach, 34, of Covington; Timothy Rodosta, 42, of Covington; Chad Thompson, and A. J. Holmes, for helping save three children following a boating incident in the Pearl River Navigational Canal on March 28 in St. Tammany Parish. The mother of the three children, Jonie Morgan, 31, of Folsom, and her boyfriend, Terry O’Keefe Jr., 41, of Folsom, passed away as a result of the incident.

“We are here today to recognize five individuals for their actions that resulted in saving the lives of three young children,” said Lt. Col. Sammy Martin, the state’s boating law administrator. “All five individuals involved exhibited leadership, good judgment, and discipline. All five people should be recognized for their heroic actions during a tragic event.”

Morgan and O’Keefe Jr., with 8- and 6-year-old boys and a 5-year-old girl, pushed off from the bank of the Pearl River Canal up river of a low head dam (sill) in a 14-foot vessel shortly after 5 p.m. on March 28. Unable to start the motor, their vessel drifted to the sill and capsized putting all five occupants into the water.

Page came upon the scene and saw two boys, one girl and Morgan in the water near their capsized vessel. While trying to help, his vessel also capsized, sending him into the water. While in the water, Page was able to grab onto the two boys while Morgan was holding her 5-year-old daughter.

Page then spotted a vessel with Leach and Rodosta on board waved them over to help and when he looked back Morgan and her 5-year-old daughter had disappeared. Leach and Rodosta were able to get Page and the two boys into their vessel and safely onto shore.

LDWF Enforcement Agents Sgt. Keith Francis and Senior Agent Joel Cromp arrived on scene at the upstream side of the sill. While the agents were interviewing witnesses near the sill, the 5-year-old girl floated out from under the capsized vessel.

Agents noticed a vessel on the downstream side operated by Thompson and Holmes and directed them to the girl’s position. Thompson and Holmes were able to pull the girl from the water and bring her safely to shore.

All three children and Page were wearing personal flotation devices (PFDs) and are in good health. Search and rescue crews found the body of O’Keefe Jr. on March 29 and Morgan on April 1. O’Keefe Jr. and Morgan were not wearing PFDs.