Tom Murray Articles

Two of the Louisiana Articles About Tom

River Parishes News

Customs agent known as quick to help

4 p.m. funeral set for today


By Lolly Bowean
River Parishes bureau/The Times-Picayune

Four years ago, 12-year-old Natalie Chauvin found herself at home tending to her bedridden father when her mother went into labor. Without any hesitation, she called her neighbor who came right over and rushed her mom to the hospital.

Thomas Murray even held her mother's hand while the baby girl was delivered, Chauvin said.

"He was always there," she said. "I knew he'd be there for us. That's how he was."

Murray came to the small St. James Parish town of Gramercy in 1981. He was an outsider who made himself fit in by helping out in any way he could.

On Tuesday, authorities found Murray, 52, a senior U.S. Customs inspector, and two other men dead in a compartment of a ship docked at Bayou Steel in LaPlace. Preliminary autopsy results indicate the men may have suffocated, St. John the Baptist Parish authorities said.

Although information is sketchy, Murray apparently climbed down a ladder into a closed section of the ship to examine cargo sometime after 2:30 a.m. He never returned.

Two other men, Makfym Larionov, 41, and Eduard Serdywk, 34, both from Russia, went into the area to search for Murray. When they didn't return, St. John sheriff officials were called at 3 a.m. and located the mens' bodies.

U.S. Customs officials are waiting for a detailed pathology report to determine exactly what happened on the ship, said Virginia Dabbs, a spokeswoman with the Customs Service.

Meanwhile, Murray's family and friends are attempting to come to terms with the sudden loss. His funeral will be today at 4 p.m. at the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Gramercy.

Murray, a father of five children, started working with U.S. Customs in 1975 in his hometown of International Falls, Minn. He moved to Gramercy in 1981 to work for the Customs office there. Among his many duties, Murray inspected foreign ships that delivered cargo along the Mississippi River.

"He was very well liked by his co-workers," Dabbs said. "He had a positive attitude, was a team player and his job-related skills were excellent."

Around Gramercy, Murray was known for his dedication to others, friends said.

"He was a real good person," said the Rev. Frank Uter, pastor of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church where Murray was a member. "He was a sympathetic and compassionate person. He was very warm and outgoing, but he was not pushy."

Murray regularly served communion to elderly parishioners who were sick and homebound and worked with couples who were in second marriages and wanted their union recognized by the Catholic Church, Uter said.

Murray also was known for his passion for the swim teams he coached.

Murray taught dozens of children how to swim and later coached many of those kids when they joined the Lutcher High School swim team.

"He loved helping young people," said Cathy Schaff of Gramercy, a friend of Murray and his wife, Joan Murray. "It was important to him. It was important to his wife."

In 1986, Murray began working with the Gramercy Swim Team, a group of children from 4 to 7 years old.

The Murrays live near the town pool, and during the summer Thomas Murray would work with the youngsters before reporting to work. In the evenings he'd spend time working with the Lutcher High School Swim Team. Sometimes he'd even spend his lunch hour at the pool, arriving in his U.S. Customs uniform.

"He didn't stand on the side and give orders," Schaff said. "He would actually get in the pool and work with the kids. He was always the last one at the pool picking up things."

Murray's wife is the swim coach at Lutcher High School. Many of the athletes she coached were trained by Murray as youngsters. And the couple worked together with the high school athletes.

On Sunday, two days before he died, Murray and his wife held an afternoon meeting with the high school swim team. The purpose was to unify the squad.

"We weren't focused," said Joseph Belak, 16, who started swimming under Thomas Murray's guidance when he was 6. "We were arguing with each other."

The Murrays wanted to talk with the team because the following weekend they would start competitions. The couple wanted to do something to bring the group closer together, to make them work harder, members said.

The couple brought a rock and a feather to the meeting, Belak said.

Joan Murray explained to the team that she was the feather and Thomas Murray was the rock -- the stern voice telling them to get better.

"She said she couldn't coach without him," Schaff said.

At the team's practice a day after Murray's death, there were no arguments, no name-calling, Belak said.

"He wanted us to get closer," Belak said. "This did it."

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Lolly Bowean can be reached at (985) 652-0952.

© The Times-Picayune. Used with permission.

River Parishes News

Trio on ship may have suffocated

3 dead after captain, shipmate follow inspector into vessel's hull


By Lolly Bowean
River Parishes bureau/The Times-Picayune

Authorities have not determined the exact cause of death of three men whose bodies were found in the hold of a foreign ship docked at Bayou Steel in LaPlace, but preliminary autopsy reports indicate the men may have suffocated, officials said.

Thomas Murray, 52, of Gramercy, a U.S. Customs senior inspector, and a ship captain and crew member were found dead Tuesday morning aboard the Sakura I that was delivering scrap metal from the Dominican Republic.

Authorities identified the two men who worked on the ship as Makfym Larionov, 41, and Eduard Serdywk, 34. Both men are from Russia.

The Jefferson Parish coroner's office performed autopsies and found no visible signs of trauma, said Chief Harold Klibert, a spokesman for the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff's Office. Authorities are waiting for toxicologists' reports before determining the exact cause of death, he said.

Authorities believe Murray went into an enclosed, lower portion of the ship to inspect the area and passed out. The ship's captain and crew member later went into the area to search for Murray and neither of them returned. When St. John officials arrived, all three men were dead.

Two other men, a customs inspector and a shipmate, were treated and released from River Parishes Hospital on Tuesday. One of the men said he felt dizzy and nauseated after the incident because of fumes, and the other was examined because he had come into contact with the three bodies.

But on Wednesday authorities said they have not determined whether fumes were coming from the enclosed area.

"I'm not sure if it was fumes or just oxygen depravation," said Greg Beuerman, a spokesman for Bayou Steel. "There's no reason to suspect there were any fumes."

The ship will not be unloaded or leave the dock until the investigation is complete, Beuerman said. The ship is docked about 1,500 feet from the Bayou Steel plant on River Road.

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Lolly Bowean can be reached at (985) 652-0952.

The Times-Picayune. Used with permission.

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