It happened on a Friday – March 27 to be exact – when Jeffery Johnson was standing in line at Pull-A-Part Junkyard on Rutledge Pike, around 4:30 p.m. A mechanic by trade, he was buying car parts. He collapsed. Jerry Massey heard the commotion and rushed to his side.
Johnson lives today. Massey is the reason.
Massey was not just another customer that day. He was working his second job as an off-duty security presence at the business. He’s there every Friday afternoon and has been for 10 years. His primary job is being a detective for the Knox County Sheriff’s Office Auto Theft Unit.
“When I got to him his head was bleeding from where he hit the concrete floor so hard, and he was mumbling and vomiting, like a seizure,” Massey, a 23-year KCSO veteran, says. “I had hospital gloves in my pocket because of COVID-19, and I immediately put them on and about the time I started CPR he had the 1000-yard stare, no pulse at all, eyes fixed and he was not breathing and turning blue really fast.” He was in full cardiac arrest.
Massey, 42, opened Johnson’s shirt and yelled for someone to call 911 and tell everyone in the business to leave and get out. “I wanted to protect this man’s dignity and respect him,” Massey recalls.
Pull-A-Part had an AED (automated external defibrillator), and after his first round of CPR Massey used the AED to shock him. It took more rounds of CPR and three more shocks with the AED for Massey to get a pulse. “About when that happened I could hear the sirens coming, and it was a welcome sound,” the detective said.
Johnson, 49, was rushed to the UT Medical Center. Doctors discovered his heart was 100 percent blocked and inserted five stents. He had never had heart problems but has been a lifelong smoker.
Last Monday, Massey’s phone rang and it was Johnson’s 69-year-old mother, Shirley. “I was expecting the worst, and then she said I’ve got someone who wants to speak with you. Jeffery shocked me when I heard his voice and said he was at home with his Mom. It floored me,” Massey said. “I never thought he’d survive.”
About now the story takes another turn. A phone call to Mrs. Johnson in Greeneville, Tennessee, this past Friday laid out the rest of this story.
“Mr. Massey is a guardian angel from Heaven, I want to tell you,” she said “I thank him from the bottom of my heart for what he did for my boy. I don’t know if I could have survived the Lord taking Jeffery. He saved two lives that day.”
Two lives? Mrs. Johnson reared two boys, Roy and Jeffery. In January 2020 Roy died after a 10-month battle with brain and liver cancer. “I don’t know if I could survive losing two boys in three months’ time,” she said. “That’s why every night I pray for Mr. Massey and thank God for what he did. He even prayed with me on the phone, and when I came down there to bring Jeffery home, he gave me gas money and gift cards for food and such and prayed with me again before I went to the hospital.”
She is caring for Jeffery at her home while he recovers. She let us speak with him. “I feel pretty rough right now, and I know I’d be dead without him doing what he did,” Jeffery said. “I’m thankful and one day I want to meet him and shake his hand.”
Is he still smoking? “Just a little. I’m trying to stop, I really am, but it’s awful hard to do,” he said.
Massey added: “I plan to see him face to face. I feel like I have made a new friend for life.”
Massey is a product of South Knoxville, a 1996 graduate of South Doyle High. His uncle, Ernie Gentry, a retired auto theft detective from the Knoxville Police Department, piqued his interest in law enforcement. He joined the KCSO Cadet program as a 9th grader and joined KSCO fulltime in 1996 as a 19-year-old.
Part of his training was to learn CPR. He did. He also has been through 15 CPR re-certifications. This is the first time he’s ever had to do CPR. “It was like muscle memory. It just kicked in when I knew I had to do CPR on him,” Massey says. “I asked a 911 operator to make sure I had my hands in the right place (and he did), and that AED being there was a godsend. I have new respect for AEDs. They are so simple to use and so vital.
“It’s a really good feeling how it all turned out,” Massey added. “It’s been just over three weeks ago and I’m still processing it all. Pretty emotional.”
Massey’s heroics did not surprise his KSCO supervisor, Lt. Allen Merritt.
“We started out working in the jail together in the late 1990s and what he did does not surprise me at all,” Merritt said. “He is one of the most dependable and dedicated guys I have ever worked with. He is what I call low maintenance and he always gets the job done. He’s low key, but he jumps into things without being asked.”
Just like he did on Friday, March 27, for Jeffery Johnson.
Editor’s Note: This is part of a weekly series – Our Town Heroes – highlighting Knoxville’s emergency-service and first-responder professionals. If you have suggestions about a first responder/emergency-services professional to feature, email Tom King or call him at 865-659-3562.