A local family is in mourning following a tug boat collision in St. Charles Parish on Sunday, near the Hale Boggs Memorial Bridge.
Family members say, Lester Naquin Jr. of Pointe Aux Chene, one of three crew members identified by the U.S. Coast Guard Tuesday to go missing in the Mississippi River, showed unwavering faith and commitment to his family and friends.
Naquin’s vessel, the RC Creppel sank after the collision, and the Coast Guard suspended its search for the three men Monday night. Mikki Billiot, cousin of Naquin, said the family is losing hope.
“When you’re a captain, you take on that responsibility. If that boat was going down and he couldn’t find somebody, he was going find them,” Billiot paused, composing herself. “You know he was a true captain, he wasn’t leaving that vessel without everybody unaccounted for.”
Lester Naquin Jr. was 43 years old at the time he went missing, a loving father, and active in his community. According to Billiot, Naquin had taken his children to every other US state over the past three months. During this trip he even stopped by to visit Billiot’s son in Las Vegas who had just returned from Afghanistan.
“He wanted his kids to know there was so much world to see,” she said. “His kids have memories that will last a lifetime.”
This isn’t the first blow the family has received. Recently, Naquin’s mother passed away as did his 19-year-old nephew who was training to be a deckhand. The blows are taking their toll on the family as others with nautical ties are beginning to question their futures along the river, “and some say that this will be their last hitch,” said Billiot.
“It’s a hard world out there. You’re putting lives in jeopardy,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking.”
Within the community, Billiot said, Naquin considered everyone to be family. When he was home, he was busy cooking, entertaining, and had unwavering faith. He was also a member of the Pointe Aux Chene tribe, and would take part in their crawfish boils.
“He was just an all around decent person who will be dearly missed by many,” said Billiot. “It’s a hard load.”
There’s currently a candlelight memorial in the works that Billiot says will likely be Saturday, but has not been finalized yet. The candles represent a path for those lost to find their way home, she said.
Currently, the river’s level is too high to recover the vessel. According to Scott Talbot, the lead controller for the sector of New Orleans Command Center and a Search and Rescue Coordinator, the river’s level was at 16.1 and it needs to be below 9 for the salvage to begin. He said, it took up to four months to retrieve a vessel in similar circumstances, because the current and the lack of visibility is too dangerous for those performing the retrieval.