LOUDON, Tenn. (WATE) — Solemn, but solid; broke, but not broken. The thin blue line held strong Wednesday for the family of Loudon County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Chris Jenkins as the fallen officer was laid to rest.
Jenkins, a 20-year law enforcement veteran, died in the line of duty Thursday, Feb. 3 while on a call to retrieve a ladder from the middle of a busy interstate. A trucker failed to slow for the rolling roadblock and struck the 49-year-old deputy exiting a patrol car parked on the side of Interstate 75 near Lenoir City. Criminal charges are filed against two people in connection with the incident.
“Having a dad in law enforcement ever since I was young, and before I signed up to do what I love doing, I planned this very day out in my head over and over again hoping it would never happen or at least I’d be somewhat prepared,” said deputy Clay Jenkins, the son of the fallen deputy and also a Loudon County deputy. “I wasn’t prepared for how much this hurts. This is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in the short 25 years of my life. In those 25 years though, I had the best daddy a boy could ever imagine having.”
Hundreds gathered alongside Jenkins’ mom, son and daughter inside the Loudon High School gymnasium for the afternoon service. Attendees included Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, who spoke of the sacrifice of those in law enforcement.
“I remember telling my own kids when they lost their mom at a young age, ‘what you are experiencing very few people ever know. What that means is that there are things you now know that few people will ever know,’ ” Lee said from the podium, a photo of Jenkins over his shoulder. “Part of that is deep understanding, a richness to life, that can only come in circumstances like this. It’s a bit of the redemptive nature of God. But its brokenhearted at the moment, and my heart is with all of you in this family.”
Fellow deputies spoke of working with Jenkins in a profession where one spends just as much time with coworkers as family members.
“He had a way about his where he would lift up everyone around him,” said Sgt. Chris Hutchens, with Loudon County Sheriffs Office. Hutchens shared stories from the field that brought laughter and quiet tears. “He cared for those he loved in a way that couldn’t be matched. Every time I was sick or had something going on in my life, he would always call even when no one else did.”
Paul Curtis, K-9 program manager for Knox County Sheriff’s Office, said he was once a supervisor for Jenkins. Curtis spoke about the fallen deputy’s work with K-9 officers, especially with Diego and later Deja.
“Sgt. Chris Jenkins was a leader of men, with boots on the ground solving the problems of his community every day,” Curtis said.
“If you wear a badge today, or plan on wearing one tomorrow, by all means, be the one who is diligent in sharpening your skills. Be the one that strives to perfect your tactics. Be the officer that works to heighten the knowledge of your profession. Those are things we should all do. But if you want to be a true pillar of your community, and the greatest asset to your family, your coworkers and the members of your community, be a Chris Jenkins,” Curtis said.
Chad Dotson, Rodney Smallen, Jason Lorenz, and Jay Easter have been friends with Jenkins for more than 20 years, they said. The four shared stories of growing up with the deputy, which brought smiles and chuckles to tear-stained faces.
Dotson told the crowd he had struggled to find what to talk about but finally settled on friendship. “For me, all I can think of since Thursday is friend. Best friend. Chris Jenkins knew how to be a friend.”
Loudon County Sheriff Tim Guider spoke next, sharing his gratitude for officers from Bristol to Memphis to North Carolina who not only showed up for the service but have taken on roles at the jail and in the office so Loudon County staff could grieve the loss of their fellow officer. Guider spoke through tears about family, and the relationship between Jenkins and his son Clay, who is also with Loudon County Sheriff’s Office.
“Pause, slow down and enjoy life while you can. Chris and Clay were on different shifts, but whenever they passed they always hugged each other and said ‘I love you,’ Guider said.
In his obituary, Chris Jenkins’ K-9 partner Deja is listed as a survivor. Deja was in the car but not injured when the fallen officer’s vehicle was struck along I-75 on Feb. 3. His former K-9 partner Diego preceded him in death.
“I hope there’s a Crown Vic in heaven with him riding in it, Jason driving and Diego in the back seat.” Clay Jenkins said at the memorial. Loudon County deputy Jason Scott was shot and killed in March 2002 while responding to a domestic disturbance call. Scott and Sgt. Chris Jenkins are cousins.
“Wearing this uniform is the most honorable thing I’ve ever done in my life. I will continue to do so in honor of Jason and Dad,” Clay Jenkins said.
“I want you all to look at me and see the walking image of my dad. I’ve been called Chris my whole life and I thought it was an honor,” Jenkins said. “I’ll carry the legacy with honor. Until we meet again, old man. I love you.”
Singer Cody Shuler, an award-winning bluegrass performer raised in Bryson City, NC, performed “Go Rest High on that Mountain” and “Stroll Over Heaven.” The songs offered a brief respite in which to wipe away tears, which many did.