Loudon County’s Luke Hawkins: At 23 he’s seen a lot

Tom KingLoudon, Our Town Heroes

Luke Hawkins is just 23, the youngest deputy at the Loudon County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO). Seeing up close what can happen to people – the trauma, the gory reality, lives lost – is an almost inescapable part of the job, sooner or later. It’s sooner for Hawkins. He’s seen and done enough in less than four years to last a career … and probably a lifetime.

Luke Hawkins

He was the first to arrive in the yard of a Tellico Village home in the late afternoon of March 30, 2022. A large 7-year-old Dutch Shepherd was standing atop a 71-year-old woman, its owner. Her face and scalp had been ripped away. Her arms were severed, torn from her body. Hawkins, unable to approach the woman because of the dog, had to shoot and kill the dog. The woman was pronounced dead in her yard.

“This is the worst body and scene I have ever seen. Sometimes you see bad things that you forget. I won’t ever forget this,” Hawkins said.

In February 2020, while he was still in training, he responded to a call on Popular Springs Road. A man had fallen backwards off an ATV and struck the back of his head on a cinder block.

The man was Keith Cornett, a close friend of the Hawkins family, a man who gave the deputy a car in 2019 so he could get back and forth to the law enforcement academy and work to pay that off. A man whose children grew up with Hawkins as childhood friends. He was bleeding badly. Hawkins sat down next to him, held his head in his lap, applying pressure to stop the bleeding. “I kept telling him to stay with me, to breathe, stay with me, help was coming, and he smiled at me and died right there.”

Hawkins has been shot at by a passenger in a car he was chasing, trailing closely. The man leaned out the window with a rifle. Bullets from the rifle peppered his vehicle but none hit him. He was lucky. The shooter was eventually captured.

Late in the evening of Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, 2023, he and another deputy saved the life of a woman who had jumped from the south railing of the Fort Loudon Dam Bridge across the Tennessee River. Knowing she was in the river, they went some 1,000 yards downstream on the east bank and walked over and around rocks, downed trees and through the fast-current to find her clinging to a rock and pulled her to safety. He said she was in her 30s. Recently he was told that she drove her car to Corryton and walked into the woods and no one has seen her since.

You get the picture.

Hawkins is a Loudon native, a 2018 graduate of Loudon High School. He and wife Emili have a 2-year-old daughter, Sadie.

Law enforcement had been on his radar for a few years before LCSO hired him in 2019. He spent a year in high school doing ride-alongs with the Lenoir City Police Department. “I was volunteering with them and I saw how they ran straight at problems and issues instead of running away and that’s my way of doing things too,” he said.

He applied at the Lenoir City PD but was not hired. So, he applied to the LCSO. “They had a position open and I decided I would get more experience there handling different kinds of situations. I will be eternally grateful to Sheriff (Tim) Guider (now retired) for taking a leap of faith to hire me and put me on patrol. I think he saw how clearly dedicated I am and how serious I am about the job and my career.”

My question to LCSO Deputy Chief Zac Frye was simple: Tell me a little about this young man. He did. “He’s a go getter, mature well beyond his age. He always stays calm and is a natural at everything he does. He’s a field training officer now and crucial in the training for all our new guys.” The fact that he’s only 23 and already training new officers speaks loudly about his abilities.

Hawkins works the second shift from 2 p.m. to midnight and has recently had a new recruit training under him, answering calls, shadowing him, soaking up the details of the job and how to handle different calls. “It is a big responsibility and one I take very seriously. When it’s a new recruit they train with me for 12 weeks,” he explained. “They have a lot to learn.”

At his young age, he’s very aware of the risks and the rewards. “This is a job where we help people every day in many different ways and we put away really bad and evil people when it’s necessary,” he said. “It’s very fulfilling work every day for me and can be full of surprises.”

Tom King has been the editor of newspapers in Texas and California and also worked in Tennessee and Georgia.

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