It was a normal day on patrol for Brian Rehg. It had been raining. He was in a cruiser and not on his motorcycle as usual because of the rain. It was about 2:15 p.m. on April 8, 2019. He was driving westbound on I-640 and noticed something odd. He looked up at a bridge above him.
There, standing high on the bridge railing, was a young man facing him.
Rehg’s first thought: “Holy ^%^$!”
Within a minute or so this 18-year veteran of the Knox County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) was off of I-640 and on the bridge. By the time he pulled up a man had talked the jumper down from the railing. A few minutes later Knoxville Police Department (KPD) Lt. Chris McCarter was there since this was inside the city limits.
“We talked with the man and tried to calm him down and finally we got him to sit down on the sidewalk. He leaned back against the bridge and he seemed to relax a little,” Rehg recalls. “We called for an ambulance because we knew he would be taken in for an evaluation.”
Things seemed calmer, but the man was visibly upset and mad. The man’s father then arrived and his presence apparently irritated the man, “So we moved the father back out of the way. We kept trying to calm the guy down, talking back and forth. He was upset about some kind of a domestic situation.”
Rehg and McCarter were standing close to the man, still talking with him. Things seemed better. It was quiet. Then it happened.
“Within the blink of an eye this guy jumped up and jumped head first over the railing,” Rehg says. “I still don’t know how he moved that quickly, so fast.”
Nor does Rehg know how he and McCarter moved so fast. As the man was diving over the bridge railing head first, Rehg reacted and somehow grabbed the man by his right leg and McCarter then grabbed the other leg and maybe an arm. Understand that the man had partially cleared the railing and was headed down. He was dead weight, so to speak. The man began flailing and both officers held on and pulled him back, wrestled him to the ground and put the handcuffs on for his and their protection.
Here is the video of the incident taken by Rehg’s body camera.
“He had a pair of loose-fitting sweatpants on and I think that helped me hold on to him,” Rehg says. “If he had been wearing tight jeans, I’m not sure I could have held him – either of us.” Rehg guesses the man weighed about 150 pounds.
Rehg has been called “a hero” by many people since then, along with McCarter. He was the KCSO Officer of the Month for April for his actions that day and has a ribbon on his uniform for that. The other ribbon is a “Lifesaver” ribbon presented to him by the KPD.
“This hero thing is new to me. We were just doing our jobs and thankfully it all worked out and the man is alive,” he said. “I have no idea who he is or how is doing today. I hope he’s a lot better.”
Usually you will find this big 6-4 officer on a 2016 BMW 1200 RT in the KCSO TANGO Traffic Unit, an assignment that came his way last January. “I’m still learning how to ride,” he admits. “It’s a learning curve, doing the turns you have to do, watching for cars and trucks coming your way. My head is on a swivel all the time. I’ve had some close calls. Yep, it’s scary sometimes, especially out here on Emory Road when it’s busy.” He’s normally patrolling north Knox County and focuses on school zones in the mornings and afternoons.
His KCSO motorcycle is called a “tall” bike and it calls for tall cyclists and most of the nine officers in the unit are tall. Their feet need to be able to sit flat on the ground when they are stopped, Rehg says.
This 42-year-native of Whippany, N.J., ended up in East Tennessee when his parents came searching for a new home. He was 18. They all ended up in Talbott, Tenn., and today Rehg is a single-parent for his two daughters, 15 and 10. They live four houses down from his folks.
He graduated from the KCSO Academy in 2005 and worked for 2½ years in the jail. In September 2006 he began working patrol in the county and he did that for 13 years until his transfer to the motorcycle unit.
“I really like the motorcycle – the freedom you have – and I put anywhere from 60 to 100 miles on it daily,” he said. “I like to ride because with this vest on it’s really hot being in the sun all day on the motorcycle and riding helps me stay a little cooler.”
As do most KCSO and KPD officers, Rehg also works “side” jobs – mostly at the Pilot Flying J Truckstop on Watt Road. He works on-field security at UT football games and does road escorts for the visiting bands that come to Neyland Stadium.
Hobbies? He has those. He’s a hot rod guy and has three street rods – a 1973 Impala he built in high school, a 1985 Olds Cutlass 442 and a 1979 Camaro that he is working on now.
Most cops enjoy shooting and he’s no different. He enjoys hunting deer and fishing with his former long-time partner and fellow KCSO Officer Jeff Monroe, who was featured as an Our Town Hero on March 11, 2019.
One of his joys in life is taking his girls to Cherokee Lake and letting them have fun behind his 22-foot Four Winds ski boat.
Rehg and his wife, Christina, were divorced when she died just more than a year ago. “It was tough. The girls and I left that morning and when we got to Myrtle Beach that night, I got a call that she had passed away and it was so hard to tell the girls,” he says.
When asked about why he’s a cop, he says: “I knew I wanted to be a cop in high school. I enjoy helping people and being outside and maybe helping save some lives along the way and keep people safe.”
KCSO Sheriff Tom Spangler weighed in on the actions of both Rehg and McCarter: “What Officer Rehg and Lt. McCarter did by saving this gentleman’s life was just another day on the job for them. As the video shows, their instincts kicked in and without regard to their own lives they saved his. This is typical of law enforcement officers everywhere. Although it’s not always caught on camera, it happens. It’s an honor to work alongside these two men to continue to protect and serve Knox County and the city of Knoxville.”
Editor’s Note: This is part of a weekly series – Our Town Heroes – highlighting Knoxville’s emergency-service professionals. Watch for this feature every Monday on KnoxTNToday, and if you have suggestions about a first responder/emergency-services professional we need to feature, please email Tom King or call him at 865-659-3562.