Two St. Bernard Sheriff’s Office deputies received the Kiwanis Club of St. Bernard-Arabi Sammie Catalanotto Life Saver Award at a banquet hosted by Kiwanis on Tuesday, July 12 at Rocky and Carlo’s Restaurant in Chalmette, Sheriff James Pohlmann said.

Lt. Michael Lyons and Dep. Mitchell Perkins, both of the Field Operations Bureau, were honored for saving the life of a young woman with special needs who was trapped inside her home following a tornado that devastated the Arabi area earlier this year, Sheriff Pohlmann said.

On March 22, 2022, shortly after 7 p.m., the Sheriff said, an EF-3 tornado touched down in Old Arabi near the Mississippi River and it traveled nearly two miles to the 40-Arpent Canal leaving behind a massive two-mile path of destruction.

As calls for service began to come into the Sheriff’s Office 911 Communications Center Lt. Lyons and Dep. Perkins were both dispatched to a home that had been blown off its foundation and into the middle of the street in the 7200 block of Prosperity Street in Arabi. The home was in danger of collapsing and a young woman with special needs and her family were trapped inside.

When Lt. Lyons and Dep. Perkins arrived on the scene they also learned the home was adjacent to a large ruptured natural gas line in danger of exploding. Putting the safety of the young lady, her family and nearby residents above their own well-being, both deputies entered the home and were able to get everyone out safely, including the 22-year-old woman who was battling muscular dystrophy and bedridden.

Unfortunately, Sheriff Pohlmann said, the young woman died a little over a week later from injuries she suffered in the incident.

Although the young woman didn’t survive, the Sheriff said the actions of Lt. Lyons and Dep. Perkins, along with the teamwork of their fellow deputies and members of the St. Bernard Fire Department, she was saved that day and given a fighting chance.

Sheriff Pohlmann commended both deputies on their hard work and dedication.

“It is because of deputies like Lt. Lyons and Dep. Perkins that we can continue to ‘Keep St. Bernard Safe’,” the Sheriff said.

Here’s a little background on each deputy’s career in law enforcement.

Lt. Michael Lyons, a 23-year law enforcement veteran, is a commander in the Field Operations Bureau Patrol Division’s 4th Platoon.

His first experience in law enforcement came in 1999 as a dispatcher in the Communications Division’s 911 Center. In 2003, he graduated from Police Officers Standards in Training or P.O.S.T. school which is the police academy, and he transferred to the Patrol Division the following year.

He was promoted to sergeant in 2012 and then again to lieutenant about five years ago.

Lt. Lyons is a member of the Sheriff’s Office Honor Guard, a ceremonial unit of officers who maintain exceptionally high standards of appearance and conduct who provide their services at local events and memorial services.

As the son of retired SBSO Deputy Andrew Lyons, he initially didn’t plan on following in his father’s footsteps.

“Honestly, I didn’t want to be a police officer when I was younger,” Lt. Lyons said, “but after working with the Sheriff’s Office as a dispatcher it kind of got in my blood and I knew I would be able to do some good in life.”

Once he was able to get to the young lady inside of the damaged home, Lt. Lyons said she told him she couldn’t feel her legs anymore.

I knew at that moment I would stay with her for as long as it took to get her out,” he said. “I began talking to her, trying to keep her calm and reassuring her I was not going to leave her and everything would be OK.”

Lt. Lyons said he didn’t realize the magnitude of what took place until much later.

“Honestly, the only thing I thought about was there were more people who needed help so I needed to hurry,” he said. “It wasn’t until a few days later when I was able to decompress that I thought about the fear in her face and hoped she was doing OK.”

Receiving the Life Saver award truly is an honor for Lt. Lyons who said it wouldn’t be possible without the help of others.

“It was truly a group effort performed by the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office, along with the Fire Department and multiple other agencies from around the tri-parish area,” he said.

Dep. Mitchell Perkins has been involved in law enforcement for nearly 21 years.

His first experience came in 2001 when he joined the Sheriff’s Office Reserve Division as an unpaid, volunteer deputy.

One of only a few Reserve Division deputies who volunteered to stay for Hurricane Katrina, Dep. Perkins was stationed at Chalmette High School where he used his personal boat to assist in the rescue of many residents caught in the storm’s aftermath.

Dep. Perkins graduated from Police Officers Standards in Training or P.O.S.T. school in 2009, and was hired as a part-time paid deputy in 2018.

In 2021, he was hired as a full-time paid deputy with the FOB’s Crime Prevention Unit Task Force where he still works today.

Dep. Perkins said his driving passion as a police officer is to help serve and protect his hometown.

“I grew up in St. Bernard, raised my children here and I feel that anyone who appreciates where they live should try to give back to their community,” he said.

On the night of the tornado, Dep. Perkins safely assisted the young woman’s family members out of the severely damaged home and got them all to safety. He also summoned additional assistance from the Fire Department for the young lady.

Dep. Perkins said it was an experience he will never forget.

“I was so focused that night that it wasn’t until the next day, during daylight hours, that I was finally able to observe the totality of the devastation caused by the tornado, and I felt proud that I was able to be a part of such a great community,” he said.

Receiving the Life Saver award is special to Dep. Perkins for more than one reason.

“Being a member of Kiwanis, I have had the honor of attending numerous Life Saver award presentations, and have been in awe of what these past recipients have done for our community,” Dep. Perkins said. “I am honored that the St. Bernard Sheriff’s Office nominated Lt. Lyons and myself for this prestigious award.”

The Kiwanis Life Saver Award was started about a decade ago by the late Sammie Catalanotto, a long-time Kiwanian and Life Saver Committee Chairman as a way to recognize first-responders in the parish for the work they do to protect the public.

Catalanotto would often be heard saying, “They are the first people through the door, and usually the last ones out, in an emergency, putting their lives on the line everyday.”

Although he sadly passed away earlier this year, the Kiwanis Club is carrying on the Life Saver award tradition in Catalanotto’s honor.

“The board voted last quarter unanimously to change the name of the award to the Sammie Catalanotto Life Saver Award,” said Ellis Fortinberry, Kiwanis past president and guest speaker coordinator. “We will continue to give these awards Sam was so passionate about.”

Anyone interested in joining the St. Bernard/Arabi Kiwanis Club community service organization is welcome to attend one of its luncheons which are each Tuesday at noon in the Rocky and Carlo’s Sicilian Room, 613 W. St. Bernard Highway in Chalmette.

For more information about Kiwanis, call Robby Showalter at (504) 616-7312.