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Those who keep us safe: Dusty Keyes and Heidi

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Dusty Keyes and Heidi (Photo courtesy Dusty Keyes)

On Sept. 11, 2001, the nation was thunderstruck by terrorist attacks. Dusty Keyes was inspired.

“After 9/11, I changed my major to criminal justice,” Keyes said. “Our country was under attack.”

Like many of us, Keyes remembers that day all too well.

“I remember watching fire and law enforcement personnel running into burning buildings to save lives, and that really opened my eyes,” he said.

That historical event led to a life-changing career in law enforcement for the Vicksburg native. The Saint Aloysius graduate returned to Vicksburg after graduating from Hinds Community College. Keyes began to work in his family’s business, Keyes Recycling, but felt the urge to help people. In 2014, he applied to work for the Warren County Sheriff’s Department.

He started out as a Sheriff’s deputy, but has since moved to be a K-9 handler for the department.

The title of sheriff’s deputy K-9 handler really fits Keyes because it has always been his passion to train dogs, especially working dogs.  In 2016, he began a partnership with his now best friend, Heidi.

“I got her from a friend of mine when she was six months old,” Keyes said. “I trained her from the ground up.”

Heidi, a black Labrador retriever, was born and raised here in Vicksburg, and Keyes trained her himself. Heidi has made an impression on the Keyes family, and they have welcomed her in with open arms.

“She sleeps in the bed with me and my wife every night,” he said.

Keyes, 39, is married with three children. He says Heidi is a family dog first, but she knows how to keep her work life and family life separate. With one command, Heidi is ready to go to work.

Keyes began training Heidi when she was eight months old, and the training process took about nine months.

“She was ready to go well before that,” Keyes said, “but she wasn’t needed as a working dog at the time, so I just kept training her until she was needed.”

When she was 18 months old, Keyes donated Heidi to the Warren County Sheriff’s Office where she and Keyes take on narcotics recovery. She is now four years old and has been certified in narcotics for three years.

Keyes knew when he got Heidi that her purpose was as a working dog. Right before joining the department, Keyes and Heidi went to the National Narcotic Detector Dog Association in Texas to learn from the best.

“It was our first year,” Keyes said. “It was strictly a learning trip.”

The duo learned many things from the association and chose to come back a second time, but this time they would go and compete with over 200 working dogs from around the nation.

“The next year she worked with the county and we placed 34th in the nation.”

With Heidi by his side, Keyes says presenting to school-age children has a special place in his heart.

“I have demonstrations for Pre-K age all the way to seniors in high school,” he said.

Because students are out of school due to COVID-19, Keyes and his K-9 friend miss the speaking engagements the most.

“We miss going into the schools and speaking with the children.” he said. “We had one or two more scheduled this year that we won’t be able to go to because of all this going on.”

Keyes does not have a favorite school to make presentations, but he does have a special bond with the current sophomores at River City Early College.

Last year, as freshmen, the student council group started a community service project to raise money and purchase safety vests for the working K-9s in Vicksburg and Warren County. The class purchased four bullet proof vests and divided them among the Vicksburg Police Department and the Warren County Sheriff’s Department.

“For those kids to see the necessity of it and care enough about us and our partners to raise the money was awesome,” Keyes said.

Once the idea was cleared by teachers and staff at River City Early College, the students ran with the idea and turned it into reality.

“It was all student led,” Keyes said. “They raised the money, got the sponsors and purchased the vests.”

He said Heidi’s vest is just a smaller version of the vest he wears every day.

The bond between these two is like no other.

“Where I go, she goes,” Keyes said. “She’s my buddy.”

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Jay Measells honors his fellow veterans

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Flags lined Mission 66 on Veterans Day. Inset Lt. Jay Measells. (photos by Ashley Sevier and courtesy Jay Measells)

People traveling on Mission 66 in Vicksburg Wednesday may have noticed the many American flags adorning the sidewalks along the shops, salons, and medical offices that populate the busy road.

People traveling the same route the previous night may have seen the man responsible for placing them there.

The man is Dr. Jay Measells, a dentist and owner of Jay Measells DMD. But before he was Dr. Measells, he was Lt. Measells, U.S. Navy, veteran.

In fact, he credits the Navy for helping him become the successful dentist he is today.

Measells joined the military May 16, 2005, during his second year of dental school.

“Military recruiters came by from time to time with the chance to finish dental school without owing a dime in student loans,” he said. “I thought that was a great idea, and I liked the movie ‘Top Gun,’ so I signed on the dotted line.”

Looking back now, he believes it was the greatest decision of his life.

Measells was stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

“While there, I had the chance to work with some of the most talented dentists in every specialty,” he said, “and all the while I was treating the selfless and heroic men and women that comprise one branch of the greatest military in the world.”

Measells served during Operation Enduring Freedom, the global war on terrorism the U.S. launched Oct. 7, 2001, in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“During that time many of the active duty personnel were deployed multiple times. Some came home injured mentally, physically or both,” he said. “And then there were those who didn’t come home at all.”

Measells said he did little in comparison to many of the brave men and women who served, but he feels honored to have walked beside so many heroes.

Veterans Day, Nov. 11, reminds him of his favorite Bible verse, John 15:13. “Greater love hath no man than this, than to lay down his life for his friends”

As for the flags lining Mission 66, Measells said, “It’s just my small way to honor those who have, at one point, written a blank check to this country for an amount up to life.”

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Overton Randolph keeps the fire trucks rolling

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vicksburg fire
Overton Randolph is conducting the annual fire pump tests last week. (photo by David Day)

You wake up and smell smoke. You quickly walk through the house but can’t find the source, so you grab the kids and call 911. After a few minutes, you can hear the sirens in the distance, but they don’t seem to be getting any closer; the fire truck is broken down.

Overton Randolph’s job is to ensure that such a scenario never happens in Vicksburg. As the mechanic for the Vicksburg Fire Department, his role is to make certain that all in-service fire apparatus are maintained, keeping them in safe operating condition and ready for immediate response.

One of the things he does to keep the fleet operating is pressure testing the pumpers on the trucks.

Overton Randolph prepares to test Engine 8

Last week, Randolph performed annual pressure testing on each truck in the VFD’s fleet. Every truck was tested, including some with the ability to deliver up to 2,000 gallons of water per minute.

The oldest truck in the fleet, Reserve 2, failed its test early in the week. Randolph was able to make repairs, and now the truck actually delivers higher water pressure than it did in its test last year.

Chief Dancyk points out the pressure specs for Engine 8

Randolph has been with the Vicksburg Fire Department for 10 years. He attended Vicksburg High School and is now happily engaged.

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Those who keep us safe: Jeff Merritt

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Jeff Merritt (photo courtesy VPD)

With 27 years in law enforcement, Jeff Merritt comes from a long line of law enforcement officers.

“I had family that worked in Wildlife and Fishery for the state of Louisiana and the local Tensas Parish Sheriff’s Department,” Merrit said. “I’ve just always been around law enforcement.”

Merritt was born in Natchez, but was raised in the tiny town of St. Joseph, Louisiana, in Tensas Parish.

The family traits ran deep in Merritt in his choice to enter law enforcement. He graduated from the University of Louisiana at Monroe, formerly Northeast Louisiana University, with a degree in criminal justice.

“When I graduated, I was doing little odd jobs around Monroe,” Merritt said. “My dad actually came across an ad in the Tensas Parish Newspaper that the Vicksburg Police Department was hiring. I applied and was hired.”

The department hired Merritt in 1993 and appointed him to the Narcotics Division in 1997 where he currently serves as lieutenant. His nearly three-decade career has revolved around one goal.

“I strive to get drugs off the streets,” Merritt said. “I know people think you arrest somebody today, somebody takes their place tomorrow, but you just feel like you’re making it a little better for society each arrest you make.”

One big arrest in Merritt’s career happened in 2015. A group of officers were recognized by the State of Mississippi for a yearlong drug investigation that involved the Vicksburg Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

The investigation, which resulted in 23 arrests, netted Merritt the Top Cop award that year, but he stressed that his job can never be done alone.

“You can’t do this by yourself,” he said. “Everything I do, I do with a team. I can’t think of any drug arrest I’ve made that has not had other officers there with me. It’s a team effort, and you’re with your team pretty much more than you are with your family.”

Being away from family in a stressful job could cause some conflict, but Merritt seems to handle the stress well.

“It really doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I really don’t get stressed at work. The hours we work can interfere with family time, and you can miss out on a lot of things, but stress wise, I don’t think it causes me to be too stressed.”

Merritt went into detail how the hours of his jobs are very unpredictable.

“This past week we worked Monday and Tuesday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and then the rest of the week we worked 7 p.m. to 4 a.m.,” he said.

Merritt has one adult daughter and is engaged. He said his fiance knows and accepts the crazy hours.

He said you have to have passion to be in law enforcement.

“You have to do it because it’s something you really want to do,” he said. “It’s not for the money, and with everything going on across the country these days you have to want to do it and do it the right way.”

Merritt has been nominated more than any other first responder in this story series. His passion and “by the book” mentality has separated him from the rest.

“I just try to do my job and treat everybody the same,” Merritt said. “To me it’s a job. It’s not personal. I do my job. I do it right. I do it fair, and I’m honest to everyone.” 

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