Jefferson Parish authorities say a 24-year-old Harvey man was intoxicated Thursday night when he commandeered an excavator from a worksite under the West Bank Expressway, charged Sheriff’s Office cruisers and led them on a chase up Peters Road before ramming through a fence and plowing the giant machine into the Harvey Canal.
William Strength escaped from the excavator’s cab as it sank to the bottom, swimming back and forth between the canal banks to avoid capture and refusing to take hold of flotation devices and ropes that were thrown to him, the JPSO said.
He was finally pulled from the water after nearby businesses provided two boats to help capture him, ending the roughly half-hour ordeal that began about 10 p.m.
Strength’s motive for the alleged rampage remained a mystery Friday as work crews lifted the excavator out of the murky waters of the Harvey Canal just after 3:30 p.m.
“He provided no explanation as to why he did what he did,” JPSO spokesman Col. John Fortunato said. “He was on a mission, but we don’t know what that mission was.”
Fortunato said no one was hurt during the rampage and credited deputies for how they handled their cruisers as the excavator charged at them. Speeds were not high, but the size of the machine made it dangerous.
“They knew … getting in his way could be catastrophic,” he said.
Fortunato said Strength smashed into a support beam of the elevated expressway and through a wall barrier separating the Harvey Canal and the lower expressway. Heading up Peters Road against traffic, he rammed power poles, causing the transformers to explode, before smashing through the chain-link fence at Daigle Towing Service and plunging into the canal.
Strength was booked on counts of auto theft, obstruction of a highway, aggravated and simple criminal damage, resisting arrest and driving while intoxicated. He was being held at the Jefferson Parish Correctional Center on $1,000 bail.
One nearby resident said she couldn’t really see or hear the man behind the controls of the excavator, and neighbors were left wondering if he was a disgruntled former worker because he appeared to have some ability to drive the excavator.
“We figured he was drunk, he was drunk and fired, or he was just fired,” said the woman, who asked not to be identified. “We didn’t know what it was. He had to know something, but he didn’t seem like he knew very much.”