Judo world champion Teddy Riner has joined those sending tributes for this young female police officer who was killed by a driver high on drugs and who did not have a licence.
Officer Melanie Lemee, 25, a World Championship judo medallist and gendarme, was killed on Saturday 4th July in the commune of Port-Sainte-Marie, near the city of Agen in the Lot-et-Garonne department in south-western France.
She was hit by a car that was reportedly being driven by a jobless man without a licence who was under the influence of drugs, according to French TV network France Info.
Legendary judo champion Teddy Riner posted a tribute to her on social media captioned: “My thoughts go out to Melanie Lemee, her family and her loved ones. Young judoka and gendarme, she died yesterday in the line of duty.”
And judo champion Clarisse Agbegnenou, 27, who won the European title in 2013, the world title in 2014 and an Olympic silver medal in 2016, said she had lost a “sister in arms”.
Melanie Lemee was a bronze medallist at the 2016 World Championships and a double military champion of France in 2017 and 2018 and had a “conquering mind”, according to French newspaper Sud Ouest.
She trained at the elite INSEP National Institute of Sport, Expertise, and Performance in Paris. She became a gendarme – the gendarmerie is a police force that is technically part of the military – after suffering a knee injury but still managed to make time to compete.
Melanie was from the commune of La Ferte-Mace in the Orne department in Normandy. Her death has reportedly plunged her old club, Alliance Judo 61 (AJ61), into deep distress. They said they had lost “a dear person who was emblematic of their club”.
Many people, reporting her joy of life, her spontaneity, her festive and good-natured spirit, have paid tribute to her online. Numerous newspaper articles have also been published in French media eulogising her.
Gendarmerie colonel Laurent Villieras lieutenant-colonel Philippe Grignon-Saltiel also paid tribute to her.
The official national Twitter handle for the Gendarmerie posted this message on Sunday morning: “Strong emotion after the death in the line of duty of the gendarme Melanie Lemee of the local brigade of Aiguillon (47), struck by a motorist on an interception device at Port Sainte Marie. Our support to her family, relatives and comrades.”
The French Judo Federation (FFJDA) has today (Monday 6th July) published a post on Facebook with a picture of the young gendarme, saying: “It is with great sadness that the FFJDA has learned of the death of Melanie Lemee […]. The FFJDA offers its condolences to her family and loved ones. ‘She had a joie de vivre […], she succeeded as much in sports as she did professionally’, Fabrice Guilley (resp. Of the French military team) said.”
The suspect behind the wheel of the vehicle that killed Melanie has not been named.
The gendarmes had first tried, unsuccessfully, to stop the Renault Clio car which was travelling at an “excessive speed”, according to the local prosecutor, quoted in local media including France Info. They then alerted another patrol of two gendarmes.
They then positioned their service vehicle “with their lights flashing, on departmental road 813 at the level of the town of Port-Sainte Marie”, still according to the prosecutor, unnamed in reports.
She added: “When the fleeing vehicle arrived near police spike strips laid out on the road, it suddenly moved to the left in order to avoid the interception device, and in so doing it struck one of the two gendarmes who was on the side of the road. The shock was particularly violent. This gendarme died a few minutes later.”
The driver fled but the airbags had gone off, forcing him to stop his vehicle 400 metres (1,312 feet) later. He then tried to escape on foot before being arrested and placed in police custody.
According to the prosecutor, the suspect is “originally from the Lot-et-Garonne [department], is jobless, has already been sentenced three times, in particular for narcotics and road traffic offences.”
In police custody, the young man, whose exact age was not revealed, allegedly told officers that he had refused to stop “because he was driving without a licence, was under the influence of drugs, but also because he had just acquired 150 grammes of cocaine. He claimed that he did not see the victim and that he thought the shock was due to the interception device.”
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