Surrounded by his “brothers in blue,” Cpl. Burt Hazeltine reflected on surviving three gunshot wounds from a man who apparently ambushed him on Highway 90 while directing school traffic a week ago.
“First of all, God is faithful,” said Hazeltine of the April 16 shooting and one day after returning from University Hospital. “Secondly, people support the local law enforcement even when there’s so many negatives that give the profession a black eye.”
No question about support here.
By 1 p.m. Thursday (April 23), there was such an outpouring of support for him that food ran out at a fundraiser for the deputy and his family at the Shriner’s Hall in Destrehan. Volunteers were scrambling to regroup on pulling more meals together, which they had to do until 8 p.m. Tables were covered with donated sweets. Fellow officers, as did Hazeltine, wore a blue T-shirt with the words, “One Family,” on the front and “Brotherhood of Blue in Unity there is Strength” on back.
On April 16, Hazeltine showed strength when John Paul Devillier of Gulfport, Miss., allegedly fired on him several times and he fired back, as well as radioed in after being hit three times.
Because of the ongoing investigation, he could not yet discuss the events of that day. But he did reflect on what he felt was a chain of events involving backup officers, transportation to the hospital and support that Hazeltine said, “… only God could have orchestrated.”
Every morning, as he left for work, he would keep the family rule of kissing his wife before leaving (because she felt the affirmation was important in his line of work) and went to the same school zone to direct traffic.
On April 16, he kissed her on the head and started what should have been an ordinary day. Just before 9 a.m., Devillier confronted Hazeltine over him not stopping traffic to let him turn left, then left to visit his father and returned. Police say he parked in the Time Saver parking lot facing the deputy, waved a gun in one hand and, as Hazeltine approached and reached for his revolver, Devillier raised a gun in his right hand and shot at the deputy five times through his windshield. Witnesses reported hearing two rounds of gunfire (about five shots per round) exchanged between the two.
“Every time I put on the badge, I knew it was a possibility,” he said of being injured in the line of duty. But he also admitted, “I never thought it would be me.”
Back at the beginning, when he had just graduated from LSU with a degree in information systems, Hazeltine recalled not being able to find a job. He was delivering pizzas when he was hired by the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office and decided being a deputy would fill the gap until he could find a real job. But it wasn’t long into the work that he discovered this was his real job, drawn to the opportunity to “make a difference” and especially by arresting drunk drivers and potentially saving a life.
At first, his wife, Mandy, didn’t welcome the news.
“I think I cried for three days,” she said of him being a law officer and her concerns for his safety. It took 14 years of marriage before her worst fears materialized.
But Hazeltine was never alone.
Soon after the shooting, an outpouring of family and community support emerged at the hospital, a porch light vigil, supporters welcoming him on the ride home Wednesday and fundraisers being held to help the family, which Hazeltine called “amazing.”
Life has become about taking everything “one day at a time – one step at a time” for the deputy since that day at the school crossing. But he expects to regain his strength in one to two months and go back to full duty.
The Sheriff’s Office readily agreed it has the same plan for him.