Friends remember, honor memory of volunteer paramedic killed in Chapman Highway crash

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The Tennessee Highway Patrol has identified one person who was killed in a crash along Chapman Highway Thursday.

Donnie Surber, 48, of Knoxville was traveling South on Chapman Highway around 4 a.m. Thursday when a northbound vehicle crossed the center divider and struck Surber’s vehicle head-on. He was found to be deceased by Seymour Volunteer Fire Department and American Medical Response.

The other driver was injured and was transported to UT Medical Center.

The influence of alcohol and/or drugs is being investigated as a possible cause of the crash.

RELATED: Knoxville City Council encourages state investment in Chapman Highway

The Tennessee Highway Patrol said the crash happened around 4 a.m. Thursday on Chapman Highway at Tipton Station Road.

A THP report says charges stemming from the fatal crash are pending. 

Remembering a friend

Only a day after the accident, Surber’s friends that are “more like family” they say, are back on Chapman Highway. They brought a cross “Donnie Surber” written next to photos of Surber with their family. 

“Unimaginable,” said Sarah Mcittie. 

Mcvittie says their family never expected to be on the side of a road picking up parts of Surber’s car. She said they were a “blended” family because Surber treated her children and granddaughter like his own. 

“He was very kind, generous, giving and loving. You could always count on him to be there for you,” said Mcvittie. 

Surber was a life-long paramedic, according to Mcvittie, volunteering to work as a paramedic in New York after 9/11. 

Mcvittie’s son, Garrett, said Surber treated his daughter, Oakleigh like she was his granddaughter. He called her  “Papa’s Princess”. 

“He was so happy any time he got to see her he was super happy,” said Garrett. 

These friends say they want to see a change not just on the highway itself, but in rules for driving under the influence. 

“I will advocate for stricter laws driving under the influence. This could’ve been avoided if this person didn’t drive under the influence,” said Mcvittie. 

Chapman Highway fatality statistics 

According to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, since 2005 there has been an average of 5 fatalities on Chapman Highway every year. 

  • 2014: 6 crashes, 6 fatalities 
  • 2015: 4 crashes, 4 fatalities 
  • 2016: 2 crashes, 4 fatalities 
  • 2017: 4 crashes, 4 fatalities
  • 2018: 5 crashes, 5 fatalities 
  • 2019: 1 crash, 2 fatalities (Does not include Surber fatality) 

The Tennessee Department of Transporation reports there are highway improvements planned for Chapman Highway. 

A future project along the corridor is in the early stages of development.  At the present time it looks like construction would begin in Summer/Fall 2023.

-Mark Nagi, TDOT

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