What started out as a normal night on patrol changed fast – and fast is the operative word. Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper Ricky Powers was sitting in his Ford Explorer on Pellissippi Parkway close to Dutchtown Road at 3 a.m. In his rearview mirror, he saw a car headed his way. He knew it was really moving – fast.
As the car passed, he looked at his radar gun and did a double take. It flashed 115 mph. It was high-speed pursuit time with no traffic at that hour. Trooper Powers waited until he began catching up with the car to hit his emergency lights. He reached speeds of 130 mph to chase down the car. Finally, the driver stopped. It was a two-minute chase, he estimates.
“I just wanted to get them stopped before they killed themselves or someone else,” he said. “It was a car full of women and the driver was in her 30s and she wasn’t drinking – just in a hurry for some reason I didn’t really understand when she tried to explain it all to me,” Powers said. “I guess I was a little surprised that a woman would be going that fast at that time of the night. I got her out of the car and gave her a good talking to about what she was doing and what can happen at those speeds.”
He also left her with some legal paperwork – citations for speeding, reckless driving, driving on a suspended license, no seatbelt and other minor charges.
The evening before our interview he stopped a 16-year-old driving 103 mph on the same section of Pellissippi Parkway and the night before that a man flew past him going a mere 90. More paperwork.
Powers has been a trooper for only two years, but this 34-year-old native of Abingdon, Virginia, has seen plenty already. He’s assigned to Knox and Union counties in Troop A of the East Tennessee District. He spends the majority of his time in Knox County.
Sgt. Eric Miller, his direct supervisor in Troop A, says the young trooper is on track. “He’s a solid trooper. He always has our goals and objectives in mind. He’s a very humble kid.”
For the next few weeks, he is on family leave. He and wife Santana adopted a little boy, Landon Reed, in Virginia and brought him home to Halls this weekend. He also has a stepdaughter, Adalyn, who is 8. Santana is an LPN at NHC Fort Sanders.
Powers graduated from Patrick Henry High in Emory, Virginia, but was reared in the small rural community of Meadowview. His father owned a landscaping business and his mother cleaned houses.
The day after graduation in 2003 he reported to Parris Island, S.C., to begin what would be a six-year hitch in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was deployed twice to Iraq – in 2004 and 2009 – a combat infantryman on fire teams. “You bet I was scared,” he said. “My first time going in our unit was on a C-130 flying into the Baghdad airport and we were taking fire as we were coming in to land. When the ramp went down and we unloaded, bullets were whizzing past our heads and we were taking machine gun fire and grenades.”
He was honorably discharged in 2010, came home, enrolled at Emory & Henry University and earned degrees in environmental sciences and geography. He wanted to be in the coal mining industry but the collapse of that work got him thinking about being a game warden. That didn’t work out. “It was too political and I didn’t know the right people,” he said.
So, he took a job at the Southwest Virginia Regional Jail in Abingdon and worked there for three years. He was living in Bristol then. “While I was there, I applied at police and sheriff’s departments and it turned out again to be that it’s who you know and I didn’t get a job. It was pretty discouraging.”
So, he decided to try the Tennessee Highway Patrol. He applied, went to Nashville for the battery of tests and the “big interview” and was hired. He then had to move twice – to Nashville first for the 19 weeks of the THP Academy. He was living on the Virginia side of Bristol and had to move to the Tennessee side to become a state trooper – which he gladly did. He graduated from the Academy in January 2018 and was assigned to East Tennessee.
“I love being a trooper. You have to make your own way and be self-motivated. I love this uniform and what it represents and I’m proud to wear it,” he said. “I like the paramilitary structure of the patrol and how we have such a cohesive unit at Troop A. I’m learning still and these fellow troopers really help me.”
In a short time, he’s already seen a lot – multiples crashes, fatalities, DUIs, drivers high on drugs and the speeders. His work area is Knox County – Pellissippi Parkway, I-40 in east Knox County, I-75 in north Knoxville, Emory Road, Maynardville Pike and the roads off I-75.
Powers worked the Aug. 11 crash on E. Emory when a man and woman on a motorcycle were killed. A young man who crossed the double-yellow line and hit them has been charged with two counts of vehicular homicide. “I had been thinking about getting a motorcycle but that made me realize that maybe I don’t want a motorcycle after all,” he said. “Fatals are hard on all of us. It comes with the job though.”
This new baby in the house will help him get away from the stresses of the job. He also plays the guitar to relax, plays video games, fishes and hunts deer and enjoys kayaking the Holston River. “I love deer hunting. Killed my first deer when I was 8,” he said.
He had a final word about his job. “I love being a part of an agency like ours that takes care of one another and saves lives. We alter the driving habits of people and save lives. To me this is really important work.”
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.