For about an hour, Trenton police officer Steve Beaudoin and his 15-year-old son sat beside his brother-in-law’s body. They waited for the coroner to make it through the debris-strewn streets and tangle of power line poles.
Earlier that night, Beaudoin had searched homes and helped the injured to ambulances. One woman had a piece of a two-by-four piercing her arm. Others had bruises or bled from gashes. Even after Beaudoin found the body of his brother-in-law, Jerry Williams, he knew the most important thing was making sure the living were safe. So he kept on working.
“It was tough, real tough,” Beaudoin said. “You just fall back on what you know. Your adrenaline keeps you going.”
Beaudoin, 47, has worked the streets for 24 years. He never saw anything like what happened April 27. When the tornado hit, he was already on duty, stopped at a red light about a block from the edge of the storm. All he saw was a dark cloud.
Then he noticed a couple standing at the edge of the street, looking battered and bruised. Their car looked wrecked. They said they didn’t know what happened.
Beaudoin drove to the intersection of Main Street and state Highway 136 — and stopped. He heard people screaming. Houses lay in scattered heaps, businesses gone.
The EF3 tornado tore through 18 miles of Dade County, killing two people and injuring dozens more, but Main Street took the brunt of the storm.
“You see people sitting crying, knowing you can’t do nothing to help them,” Beaudoin said.
His first thought was his father. The elder Beaudoin’s home was destroyed, only a few walls standing. Beaudoin found his father, who told his son a tornado victim was lying dead in his backyard.
They had no idea it was Williams, who lived on nearby Sand Mountain. He was visiting his girlfriend across the street when the tornado hit, smashing the mobile home into a pile of debris.
It was not until Beaudoin pulled Williams’ identification from his pocket that he realized who it was.
“He was like my son’s second daddy,” Beaudoin said.
After all the living had been cared for, Beaudoin returned to his father’s backyard. He and his son waited, paying tribute in the dark and the storms.
Soft-spoken and unassuming, Beaudoin quickly rejects the idea that his actions warrant any praise.
“I didn’t do nothing that the other officers didn’t do,” he said.
On Thursday evening, a little more than a week after the storm, he returned to the police station after arresting two people who tried to steal a car. It is his day off — or would have been if the storm hadn’t hit.
All seven of Trenton’s officers were out there that night, Beaudoin said, and have worked nonstop since then. In just seven days, they racked up 2791⁄2 hours in overtime.
Chief Roger Castleberry said all his men, including Beaudoin, have performed beyond the call of duty in the last week.
“He [Beaudoin] knowed there were others he could help, so he kept on working,” Castleberry said. “I’m extremely proud of all my men.”
Mariann Martin covers healthcare in Chattanooga and the surrounding region. She joined the Times Free Press in February 2011, after covering crime and courts for the Jackson (Tenn.) Sun for two years. Mariann was born in Indiana, but grew up in Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Belize. She graduated from Union University in 2005 with degrees in English and history and has master’s degrees in international relations and history from the University of Toronto. While attending Union, ...