Tragedy hits St. Amant community

Charlotte Guedry
Raelyn Encalade is show with her daughter Faith Castilaw (left) and Patience Lobell (right)

The Ascension Parish community was once again faced with tragic news, as they learned of an accident in the St. Amant area of the parish.

Shortly before 10 p.m. last night, a car driven by Raelyn Encalade, 28, of St. Amant, veered off of Stringer Bridge Rd., and became submerged in the bayou that winds along the roadway.

Five people, including Encalade, were in the vehicle. The other four passengers were all children. Two of the children were rescued, but unfortunately the young mother's own two children died while rescue workers struggled to free them from the vehicle.

St. Amant Volunteer Fire Chief James. E. LeBlanc was at the site of the tragic accident today, and spoke to us about what had transpired.

"We got the call, and were on site within two to three minutes," he said. "We tried everything we could to get the other two little girls out of the vehicle, but the current kept pulling the car away. It just kept drifting. My guys were in the water for about 30 minutes doing absolutely everything they could think of. It's just so sad it turned out this way."

According to LeBlanc, the already dark and murky waters of the bayou were made even worse by the time of night the car became submerged.

"It was just so dark," he said. "It was just so hard to see anything in the water. We were trying so hard, and the poor mom didn't want to get out of the water. She wanted to get to her babies. It was just horrible, and so sad."

LeBlanc introduced us to a Stringer Bridge Rd. resident, Toby Ragas, who made a world of difference in the way the night unfolded, LeBlanc said.

Ragas was sitting with his wife on their front porch when he heard the screeching of brakes.

"Me and my wife live right at the curve," he said. "We were just sitting outside and heard what sounded like tires screeching. I said to my wife, 'come on, let's go,' thinking someone was in some trouble. We jumped in our vehicle and I saw a taillight going under the water. I told my wife to call 911 and I jumped into the bayou. I could see a woman, who turned out to be the mom, surfacing, and she was screaming for her babies. I dove in and found one child. I got her out of the water and gave her to my wife. Next thing I knew I could see bubbles and these little fingers coming out of the water. Purely by the grace of God was I able to see that. I reached in and grabbed the little girl by the elbow and got her head above water and she took a breath. By this time the fire department was there as well, and I went back in. By then, though it was too late. It was just too late. I do, though, thank God my wife and I got there when we did. Another fifteen minutes and no one would have seen the lights, and none of them would have been saved. I am obviously upset that we couldn't save them all, but I am glad and thank God I was able to help."

LeBlanc stated that the quick thinking of Ragas helped this situation have a better outcome than it could have.

"I cannot thank Toby enough. He was the first on the scene and the first to get two of those precious babies to safety."

When the Gonzales Dive Unit showed up and got into the water, it was within minutes Encalade's two daughters were brought to the surface.

"It was just so horrible," said LeBlanc. "It took no time at all for them to get those babies up, but it was already too late. They'd been in there too long. Once they were on the surface there must have been seven or eight people assisting and administering CPR, but we didn't get the result we wanted."

The tragic accident saw the entire Ascension community come together to assist with rescue operations.

"We had everyone here," said LeBlanc. "We had the St. Amant Fire Department, 7th District, Sorrento, Gonzales, the Sheriff's Office, the Gonzales Ambulance, State Troopers, and even Air Med on standby. I cannot thank everyone enough for all that they did to help last night."