HAMMOND -- Hundreds of first responders led their fallen brother to his final resting place in a funeral procession that went through Tangipahoa and Livingston parishes on Thursday.
The procession was held in honor of George Baker, the Louisiana State Police trooper who passed away from injuries sustained in the line of duty. Baker’s body was escorted from the University Center in Hammond to Lighthouse Baptist Church in Independence.
The procession — which took a full 40 minutes to travel less than a mile down Hwy. 3234 in Hammond — drew people of all ages to pay their respects to Baker, who left behind a wife, a daughter, his parents, his sisters, and other extended family members as well as many friends and coworkers.
To put it simply, he was loved “by anyone who met him,” according to family friend and former classmate Amanda Swaim.
“I definitely wanted to come out here and show my respect, she said. “He was one of the nicest people you’d ever meet.”
Baker, 33, died on Sunday, May 24, four days after he was hit following a police chase in Hammond. According to authorities, Baker and another officer were retrieving a tire deflation device from the road when they were struck by a Hammond Police Department unit.
Both officers were transported to North Oaks Medical Center, and one was later released with minor injuries while Baker remained “in critical condition” until his ultimate passing. A vigil of family, friends, and fellow Troopers remained with Baker at the hospital “from the very beginning until his passing,” State Police said.
News of Baker’s passing spread quickly through Louisiana, especially in Livingston Parish. The son of George and Audette, Baker was a lifelong resident of Albany and a 2005 graduate of Albany High, where he was a multi-sport athlete.
His former principal Bruce Chaffin, currently the school district’s human resources director, took to social media upon learning of Baker’s passing, describing his former student as “nothing but polite and a true gentleman.”
“He will be greatly missed in this community,” Chaffin said.
A former Albany High baseball teammate, Shelton Vicari, described him as “someone everybody liked.”
“Baseball players would mess with him sometimes, but he was never someone who got his feelings hurt,” Vicari said. “He took everything in stride, and people liked him for that.”
Even after his death, Baker continued to serve others.
On Monday, Baker’s organs were donated in what Louisiana State Police called “his last act of selfless service.” Uniformed troopers stood at attention on both sides of a hospital hallway as Baker’s body was taken out of North Oaks Medical Center, and a caravan of State Police cars later escorted his flag-draped casket away from the hospital.
“In his last act of selfless service, Trooper Baker was escorted to donate his organs, so others may live,” LSP said in a Facebook post Monday afternoon.
Earlier this week, Gov. John Bel Edwards ordered that all public flags wave at half-staff in honor of Baker.
The well-wishes continued on Thursday with a memorial service followed by a funeral procession. The ceremony featured remarks from many speakers who spoke on Baker’s “selfless service” during his time in the U.S. Marine Corps, the Greensburg Police Department, the St. Helena Parish Sheriff’s Department, and ultimately Louisiana State Police.
Among the speakers were Edwards, Louisiana State Police Superintendent Col. Kevin Reeves, Troop L Commander Capt. John Riles, Trooper Joseph Drago, St. Helena Parish Sheriff Nathaniel Williams, former Greensburg Mayor Burke Jones, and Stephanie Smith, Baker’s sister.
Baker’s State Police number “L-36” was also retired during the ceremony.
Following the ceremony, a convoy of motorcycles, police cars and SUVs, and fire trucks led Baker’s body to Lighthouse Baptist Church, where he was a “dedicated member.” Gatherings could be found in Hammond, Albany, and lastly, Independence.
People of all ages stood on the streets as hundreds of vehicles passed by, with most holding up signs or waving American flags. Many recorded the action with their cell phones, filling Facebook with multiple live streams of the procession. On the way to the church, the entire procession of vehicles went under multiple American flags that flapped above highways.
Among those attending the procession were several of Baker's fellow servicemen, including many who served with him during a tour in the Middle East in 2007. His former platoon sergeant Scott Torres, who made the drive from Fort Worth, Texas, described Baker as “a great person” that “got along with everyone.”
“He always had a good attitude,” Torres said. “He always had that smile on his face and a can-do attitude. Everybody loved him.”