Camper deaths

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 17, 2011

Bell LeCompte

Panola EMA director Daniel Cole (second from right) readies a chain for a front-end loader that was standing by to pull a section of oak tree from atop a camper at Sardis Lake. The Panolian photo by Billy Davis

Woman held infant as tree crashed camper

By Billy Davis and Rupert Howell

It’s true that she died with the baby in her arms.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Six-month-old Bell LeCompte was found in the arms of great-grandmother Evelyn Brower on Monday, when emergency personnel dug through the family’s demolished camper at Sardis Lake.

At the Oak Grove campground, straight-line winds had toppled a towering oak tree onto the Jayco camper, claiming Brower’s life. But little Bell had a pulse.

First responders were able to pull back a wall and saw Brower and the child inside, said Panola EMA director Daniel Cole.

A Medstat paramedic from Batesville checked the pulse of both; Bell was still breathing.

Then the frantic work began.

Chainsaws began eating their way through limbs.

A massive front-end loader, owned by the U.S. Corps of Engineers, was put into service to drag away the tree trunk and limbs as big as a man. That effort freed enough weight from the camper to free the child.

“I don’t know how long it took. Maybe it was 30 minutes,” Cole recalled. “I know it felt like an eternity.”

The infant, who is from Alabama, later died at Tri-Lakes Medical Center.

Funeral services for Bell LeCompte are set for today in Decatur, Alabama. The infant was the daughter of Jason and Dannon LeCompte of Trinity, Alabama.

Authorities said three more family members escaped from the camper, including a 9-year-old who suffered a broken arm.

They have been identified as the grandfather and grandmother of Bell LeCompte, and a cousin.

“The grandmother told me she was playing with the baby, who was in the great-grandmother’s arms, when the tree fell,” said Gracie Grant-Gulledge, Panola County coroner.

The small camper was ringed by 80-foot-tall oaks at the popular campground. The oak that snapped off at its base stood less than 10 feet from the camper.

After the child was removed from the scene, first responders working in a downpour continued to cut the tree and drag away limbs.

The rain had stopped at 5 p.m. when sheriff’s deputies and Sardis Lake firefighters held up sheets and tarps as Brower’s body was finally removed from the camper.

Sardis Lake camper Michelle Bryant said the strong thunderstorm hit the campground seemingly without warning, with winds whipping so hard it knocked her 3-year-old son off his feet.

Bryant said she was still standing outside when she watched the oak fall onto the camper.

Family members said the infant’s parents had visited during the weekend then left Monday to return to work in Alabama.

The Brower family suffered a third loss this week when Evelyn Brower’s sister-in-law, Helen Brower, 79, of Batesville, died unexpectedly Tuesday.

Services will be Saturday in Clarksdale for both women.