Knox County Sheriff’s Deputy Robert W. Simpson II spent three days in Nashville last week in a special type of training. The course: “Traumas of Law Enforcement.” Before we get into why he was there, let’s report the news here. This 33-year-old native of Powell, reared in Broadacres and educated at Powell schools, has been named the 2021 Officer of the Year by the Knox County Sheriff’s Office.
Now, why the trauma training? Simpson explains: “I guess considering what I’ve been through lately, they decided I should do this training. They teach multiple things about signs your family and friends as well as yourself should recognize how stress and trauma may be affecting you. Really makes you realize that you aren’t alone and that this is a brotherhood.”
Experiencing gut-wrenching tragedy and reacting under intense pressure comes with the job of putting on the uniform and the badge. Horrific accidents, shootings, suicides, sex crimes and all manner of arrests and chases. It’s a long list.
On Sunday, Oct. 3, 2021, Simpson was in Powell taking a report on a hit-and-run accident near the intersection of Pleasant Ridge and Schaad roads. He found out through a license plate check where the driver, who had left the scene, lived. He was eastbound on Pleasant Ridge on his way to that man’s house when the call came in about a child not breathing on Schaad Road. He was only minutes away.
It was dusk – 5:42 p.m. This was not a wreck. A 2-year-old boy was in his car seat and his parents noticed he was not breathing, so they pulled over and stopped and got their little boy out of the car. When Simpson arrived, he saw the mother frantically waving her arms. He turned on his blue lights and blocked a lane of traffic.
“Two guys were doing CPR and didn’t get a pulse. Nothing. I took over doing the CPR and the father did slow mouth-to-mouth breathing. The kid had already turned blue. Finally, I could feel his lungs working and knew he was breathing,” Simpson said.
Simpson is not an EMT (emergency medical technician) or a paramedic. But he knew that doing CPR on infants and small children is not the same as CPR on adults. “You have to use your fingertips for compression instead of the palms of your hands and you have to be really slow and easy with the mouth-to-mouth or you could damage their lungs,” he explained.
The little guy survived. The AMR ambulance took him to East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. Had Simpson not been so close, the outcome may have been different. “When I got there, he had not been breathing for maybe two to three minutes,” he said. “This could have ended differently.”
When it was over, Simpson sat in his cruiser to decompress. “I called my dad and talked to him about it,” he says, along with taking deep breaths. “The first thing I said though was to God – I told him, ‘God, you put me where you wanted me to be today.’”
Then he drove to the home of the hit-and-run driver and issued him two citations.
Fast forward two months or so. Simpson responded to an early morning call. Parents had found their small child with the cord to the blinds around their neck and not breathing.
“It was 6:30 a.m. and I was the first on the scene. Nick (Deputy Nick Saah) got there next and we did CPR but couldn’t get a pulse or anything. When the paramedic on the engine and the EMTs arrived, we turned it over to them. They could not bring the child back,” he said.
“I had some trouble with that one. It breaks your heart seeing that, seeing and hearing the parents. I have goose bumps now just talking about it now. It hits close to home,” he said.
Simpson and his wife, Lauren, a nursing supervisor in Urology at the University of Tennessee Medical Center, have a 5-year-old daughter, Novalee, a student at Powell Elementary. Simpson, whose nickname is “Rocket,” graduated from Powell High in 2006. During the next eight years he worked at UPS and had a mowing and landscaping business. “I even saved money to go to truck driving school. I was chasing the dollar and not listening to where God wanted me to be.”
Then came another coincidence. It was a Friday in 2014. “Lauren was in a fender bender and after I checked on her and the car, I saw a deputy I had known for a while, Logan Sammons (now a KCSO detective). He started talking to me about why wasn’t I joining the sheriff’s office. I thought to myself, ‘If this isn’t a sign from God, what is it.’”
He applied, was hired, spent three years as a corrections officer, and a year as a warrants officer. In May 2019 he went to patrol.
But that’s not all he does at KCSO. He is a member of the Honor Guard and the new drone team – the Drone Aerial Response Team (DART). The team is in the process of training on the drones and obtaining the necessary FAA waivers needed to fly them. They will be used for missing person searches and apprehensions.
Simpson will be honored at a March banquet at the Elks Lodge along with other KCSO honorees. Now, a few words from his boss, Sheriff Tom Spangler, about this deputy:
“Law enforcement officers will see things daily that most people will not encounter during their lifetimes. While teaching recruits, I always tell them to expect it when they least expect it. There’s uncertainty with every call.
“Officer Simpson’s actions were heroic. A child is alive today because he is adequately trained and acted quickly. I am proud of him and honored he chose the Knox County Sheriff’s Office as his home.”
Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and was the editor of two newspapers. Suggest future stories at [email protected] or call him at 865-659-3562.