NEW IBERIA, La. (KLFY) — The New Iberia community honored two men who saved the life of a kidnapped 10-year-old. They were not police or detectives, but sanitation workers who stopped to call 911 while on their early morning route.
Dion Merrick and Brandon Antoine were given Life-Saving Valor Awards Wednesday night. They gained national attention on Feb. 8 when their role as public servants took a new meaning. They spotted a car in a field that matched an Amber Alert and parked their garbage truck to block it in while calling authorities.
“It was just a blessing to make sure she was home and home safe,” Dion Merrick said after receiving his award.
Of all the hands clapping for him and his coworker, it was the smallest which were the most thankful. Jalisa Lasalle watched her heroes from the front row. “Thank you!” she wanted to tell them afterward.
Lasalle and her siblings were playing outside on January 7 before she vanished, leaving only her scooter down the street. An Amber Alert was issued the next morning, and within hours Merrick found the vehicle matching the description.
“I was just doing my job and found somebody who needed help,” Merrick said while live-streaming the arrest on Facebook. His video has been shared over 100K times.
Several New Iberia City Council members praised the sanitation workers’ keen eyes.
“It takes a certain person to be aware of your surroundings, and we’re sure glad that you were aware at that time,” remarked District 3 Councilman David Broussard.
Deidre Ledbetter, the councilwoman for District 4 echoed, “We will always thank you. The parents will thank you. The city thanks you, and just keep on being who you are.”
The man who was in the car with Jalisa is Michael Sereal. He is a registered sex offender, and he’s now facing aggravated kidnapping charges. Jalisa Lasalle’s father, Jermaine Lasalle, said Merrick and Antoine deserve everything they’re getting for stepping up.
“Most of the times when people see stuff like that, Amber Alerts and stuff, they brush kind of brush it off, but they looked, and seen, and they acted on it, so they deserve everything that they’re getting,” Lasalle said.
The recognition is something Pelican Waste District Manager Kushonnie Lewis says her employees rarely get. “Some people look at us the garbage people. They don’t really understand that we are people, and we like to be treated equally, and there are a lot of good things that we do for the community,” Lewis said.
This isn’t the first time Merrick has been a hero. He said anyone would have done what he did, “I’m a veteran. I used to be in the Navy, and my instincts just kicked in.”
Merrick thought of his little girl while saving Jalisa. He’s not asking for “Thank Yous”, but he’s getting them anyway, especially from Jalisa who said, “Thank you for getting me home safe.”
Pelican Waste Debris has established a GoFundMe it created to salute the two workers.