HARVEY, LA (WVUE) - Imagine seeing a nearly 200,000-pound construction machine moving recklessly in your direction. That's what happened on the west bank of Jefferson Parish late Thursday and the driver who allegedly stole the machine left a lot of damage in his path.
After receiving reports of a stolen excavator in the 2400 block of the West Bank Expressway, officers responding to the scene say they saw it being driven in a reckless manner. The driver of the excavator was later identified as 23-year-old William Strength.
Officers say their attempts to apprehend the suspect were hindered as Strength tried to use the excavator as a battering ram. Jefferson Parish sheriff's deputies say Strength charged the excavator at officers and their vehicles. No one was hit.
Trees were felled, and a beam of the elevated expressway was struck. That was just the beginning.
"I was sleeping, they called me up, told me that somebody had broke in,” said Albert Daigle, owner of Daigle Towing Services.
By mid-morning Friday he and others were working to repair the fence at his business. The excavator rammed through it and also knocked down utility poles. Utility crews worked to make repairs, as well.
"I have an electrician up there putting the power back, he run over the transformer,” Daigle said.
"Came straight through the gate and ran right into the canal,” said Morgan Gaudet, a tugboat captain, and the grandson of Daigle.
At the point that the machine was driven into the water, the canal is 12-to-15 feet deep, according to Daigle.
As the excavator went under water, deputies say Strength surfaced and began swimming back-and-forth from one side of the canal to the other.
Officers utilized two flat boats and apprehended the without further incident.
"I don't even know how he came out alive driving the machine into the canal and coming out of the cab and swimming across,” said Daigle.
Fortunately for the business the runaway excavator had a clear path.
"Usually my boats are parked right over here,” Daigle said.
Because it is an industrial canal there is likely metal debris in it. It's the reason Daigle and his grandson marveled at the fact the suspect did not suffer injuries.
“There's so many tugboats and tows that pass by, they have cables, ratchets,” Gaudet said.
"No telling what they have down there over the years,” Daigle added.
And after nearly 50 years in the towing business, Daigle said being shocked was an understatement.
“No, I'm not mad at him, I just would like for somebody to pay for the damage, but I guess no one will besides myself,” he said.
Strength was booked with auto theft, obstruction of a highway, aggravated and simple criminal damage, resisting arrest and driving while intoxicated.
Police said no one was hurt during the incident.