The job is hard enough with its unrelenting day-to-day stress, of seeing the bodies of men, women and children killed in vehicle accidents, not to mention chasing and stopping impaired drivers from killing themselves and others. In one way, the morning of Feb. 3, 2022, was more of the same for Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) Trooper Paul Dubroc. In another way, it wasn’t. It was a day unlike any other before or since.
His workday began by responding to an accident on I-75 not long after 8 a.m. A big rig crashed through a rolling roadblock as Loudon County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Chris Jenkins was attempting to remove a stepladder from the interstate. The truck hit two cars before plowing into Jenkins’ cruiser and then running down Jenkins. He was killed instantly.
Dubroc, 32, was the first law enforcement officer to arrive. “I immediately knew it was Chris,” he says of his friend of eight years. “The day before this happened, we worked out at the same gym and we’d talked about our career and jobs and typical work-related things.”
The two had worked accidents before on I-75 in Loudon County. And it’s doubly hard for an officer to work an accident or call where a fellow officer has died. Dubroc chooses his words carefully since he’s the lead investigator on this accident and the case is still in the courts.
“I had a lot of emotions all at once. It was kinda like it was surreal. You can’t believe it’s Chris and this has happened,” he did say. “But then I switched into Trooper mode and had to work the case, hold my emotions in, remain neutral and positive and pull up my big boys pants.”
If you are not familiar with this tragic accident, here’s what happened: a stepladder fell off of a van and ended up on I-75 with cars and trucks dodging it. Jenkins took the call to remove it, so he set up the rolling roadblock. The big rig, driven by Christopher Savannah, 43, from Houston, Texas, didn’t slow and smashed through the roadblock. He is being held in the Roane County Jail under a $1 million bond and facing charges of vehicular homicide by intoxication, vehicular homicide by recklessness, three counts of reckless endangerment, DUI, simple possession, possession of a handgun under the influence, possession of drug paraphernalia and other traffic charges. Savannah was also reportedly under the influence at the crash. Investigators testified that he admitted to using marijuana at least four and eight hours before the crash.
“I hate to see anyone die, especially such a caring guy like Chris who died serving and protecting others. It really hits home about what we all do when something like this happens,” Dubroc said.
“My investigation is what I do on all impaired drivers, exactly the same. You have to do it the right way and be thorough. That’s true for everyone involved, even for someone who has no voice. Follow the laws and procedures.”
THP Capt. Stacey Heatherly commands District 1 in East Tennessee and the counties that Dubroc patrols – Roane, Loudon and Morgan – are her responsibility. Here’s what she said when asked about this high-profile case: “Trooper Dubroc has faced some fears; we all know that they will eventually come our way in this job. When Sergeant Jenkins was killed in the line of duty in Loudon County, Trooper Dubroc was the first trooper on the scene as the primary investigator on that horrible day. Trooper Dubroc and Sergeant Jenkins were friends, so Trooper Dubroc’s ability to maintain his emotions and focus on the investigation was vital … and that’s precisely what he did.”
Dubroc moved to East Tennessee in September 2008 when he was a senior in high school (graduating from Tellico Plains High School) and as part of the largest evacuation in U.S. history of more than three million people fearful of Hurricane Gustav in Louisiana. He is a native of Metairie, Louisiana, on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain between New Orleans and Kenner.
“When Gustav was headed for us, that’s when I knew I was sick and tired of living with hurricanes,” Dubroc says. “I’m done with this place and going to Tennessee. I’m a Tennessee boy now and forever. I love it here.”
Dubroc is what you call a “squared away” trooper who also is a member of the Knoxville District Strike Team and an FYO (field training officer) in the district. He earned his degree in criminal justice and human services from Tennessee Wesleyan College.
Dubroc was destined for a career in law enforcement. His grandfather was a law enforcement officer and his father is retired as a sheriff’s deputy in Tangipahoa Parish and its 435,000-plus residents north of New Orleans. Brother Jeff is an officer in Jefferson Parish.
“(Both) law enforcement and community service run deep in our family. I grew up in it and lived it. It’s all about serving and protecting,” he explained. “That’s all my family’s ever done.”
He’s a private kind of fellow. He and his wife, a nurse, have a daughter who is almost 2 and they live in Roane County. Being a Louisiana Cajun at heart, he loves cooking and the outdoors.
Another accident he has not forgotten was on May 26, 2019, on Orchard Valley Road in Roane County. Two boys, 18 and 16, died. It was speed that killed them.
“It was hard. They’re all hard. I hate to see anyone killed because all crashes are preventable,” he shared. “People making bad decisions and they don’t consider the consequences. The families of those young men are forever impacted by this accident. None of us are assured of tomorrow so how we spend our time today really matters.”
“I check on Trooper Dubroc quite often,” Capt. Heatherly said.
“Like many troopers who have experienced high risk or extreme stress, we must watch each other in this job, and that’s a big part of my position as the captain of the district.”
Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and was the editor of two newspapers. Suggest future Our Town Hero stories at [email protected] or call him at 865-659-3562.