When Justin Parks is patrolling the 20 miles of I-75 in Loudon County, he notices much more than the speeders. His Criminal Drug Interdiction training regularly kicks in. Twice in August this Loudon County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) deputy made fentanyl busts. Together, his five arrests took approximately 11,000-plus fentanyl pills off the market with a street value of close to $300,000.
Read carefully these comments by Anne Milgram, the Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA): “Fentanyl is the single deadliest drug threat our nation has ever encountered. Fentanyl is everywhere. From large metropolitan areas to rural America, no community is safe from this poison.”
It’s in Loudon County, Knox County and throughout rural East Tennessee. We hear and read about this deadly drug. The DEA has two key messages about it:
- Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, approximately 50 times more potent than heroin and 100 times more potent than morphine. It is inexpensive, widely available, highly addictive and comes in a variety of colors, shapes and forms – including powder and pills.
- In 2022, DEA seized more than 58.3 million pills containing fentanyl and more than 13,000 pounds of fentanyl powder. This equates to nearly 387.9 million potentially deadly doses of fentanyl that never reached our communities.
- One kilogram of fentanyl has the potential to kill 500,000 people; In 2021, 70,601 people died from fentanyl overdoses in the U.S.
It was on Aug. 20, 2023, a Sunday night, at 9:55 p.m. Parks, 26, was working his usual overnight shift, 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. He was parked in the median at the 71-mile marker. He had a clear line of sight as he watched northbound traffic approach.
The Big Bag
One car attracted his attention. “I could tell he was trying to blend in with the traffic and then he hid his face as he went by me. Then he continues to drop speed after passing me in the left lane and got passed by two 18 wheelers in the right lane and that’s unusual,” Parks said. “I could clearly see he tried to hide his face because I had my takedown lights on to see into vehicles.”
Parks stopped the car at mile marker 66. Four people were inside – two men and two women. The driver had a revoked/suspended license, three pending traffic violations and a charge of manufacture/sale/delivery of Schedule II drugs. Once backup arrived, Parks made sure the situation was calm, searched the driver and asked him to come back to his patrol car “so I could write him a warning. He was nervous and that relaxed him, just getting off with a warning.”
Parks says they sat in his patrol car and talked. “I started asking him about their trip plans, where they were going and it didn’t make any sense,” he said. “Plus, I had smelled weed in the car, so we went back to the car, got everyone out and I had probable cause to search the vehicle.”
The search uncovered a semi-automatic handgun, marijuana, drug paraphernalia and $8,000 in cash. Parks kept searching and eventually focused on the center console. He tore off the console’s side panel and reached in. He pulled a bag weighing 2.4 pounds out. He called it “a big bag.” Inside were the 11,000 fentanyl pills.
The four occupants, all from Chattanooga, were arrested on multiple charges and taken to the Loudon County Detention Facility. Once there one of the women was found to be hiding another 80 pressed fentanyl pills and 1 ounce of fentanyl powder rolled up in a bag.
“That’s the largest bust I’ve ever made for sure,” Parks said.
The second stop
Just nights later in the wee hours of Friday, August 25, Parks was patrolling I-75 south and noticed a car weaving across the lanes. Officially it’s “failure to maintain lanes.”
Parks pulled in behind her and her weaving intensified. “I pulled her over at the next exit and she was really nice, but really nervous. She admitted she was nervous and she told me she got more nervous when she saw me in her mirror because of what was in her car.”
This 54-year-old woman was from Ringgold, Georgia, southeast of Chattanooga. Parks discovered 70 fentanyl pills, a bag of meth and cash. “She told me she was unemployed and could not find a job,” he said. “So, she was doing this.” He arrested her and she was charged with manufacturing, selling and delivering Schedule II drugs.
About Justin Parks
Parks has been with the Loudon County Sheriff’s Office for four years. A native East Tennessean from Bluff City, he’s a 2015 graduate of Sullivan East High School and a 2020 graduate of East Tennessee State University with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. His bosses like his work.
Sheriff Jimmy Davis says: “Justin has put a great deal of effort into building his own skills in drug interdiction and it has shown with these traffic stops. Justin is a great representative of our agency and comes into work every day with a smile on his face ready to serve his community.”
And Chief Deputy Zac Frye added: “I love Justin’s dedication to this agency and his community. He puts so much effort into every shift he works and has a true passion to make a difference in whatever he does. I am proud to have him as a part of our team.”
His path into law enforcement is a little unusual. “I had never really thought about law enforcement but in my senior year in high school I took a criminal justice class just to really goof off with my buddies. But once I got in there, I started paying attention and my teacher and I both realized I had a passion for this and he said it’s something I may want to pursue.
“I guess you can say it came out of nowhere and it became my calling.”
He was actually hired twice at LCSO by retired Sheriff Tim Guider. He graduated from the Blount County Regional Training Academy on April 9, 2021. LCSO hired him and he worked for three months in the jail. He also previously had applied to the Maryville Police Department, but they did not have a patrol slot open. During the December 2021 holidays they called with a patrol office position. So, after three months at the Loudon County jail he left on Jan. 2, 2022, for the Maryville job. Six months later he was back in Loudon.
Almost a year ago life changed again. After meeting at ETSU a few years back, he married Loudon County native Samantha Brubaker. No children so far. She is the charge nurse supervisor of the Loudon County Medical Center’s emergency room.
When he thinks about his career today, he knows what happened in that classroom at Sullivan East about a “calling” is very real. “The ability to affect people’s lives and make an impact in your community is something you don’t get to do in a lot of jobs. It’s a noble profession and the good we do makes it worthwhile and very fulfilling.
“The day I stop feeling that way will be the day I stop.”
Tom King has been the editor of newspapers in Texas and California and also worked in Tennessee and Georgia. If you have someone you think we should consider featuring, please email him at the link with his name or text him at 865-659-3562.