Sgt. Mike Turley: From zinc mine to THP

Tom KingGrainger, Our Town Heroes

For two years he worked 1,500 feet underground loading dynamite into holes in a zinc mine. He was a jailer and patrol deputy for the Grainger County Sheriff’s Office. He was the second of two officers hired who made up the entire force of the Bean Station Police Department.

In high school he was a band captain who played the snare and bass drums and was big in the FFA (Future Farmers of America). He describes himself as a “hometown boy” from tiny (pop. 1,120) Rutledge, Tennessee, and grew up working on the small family farm.

Today, he is Sgt. Michael “Mike” Louallen Turley, 45, a member of the Tennessee Highway Patrol Troop A based in Knoxville. He is in his 20th year as a trooper and covers both Knox and Union counties.

“Sheriff Bobby Witt opened a huge door for me and for my future when he hired me at Grainger County,” Turley says. “I loved it immediately and was hooked. I worked in the jail for a year and then went out on patrol.”

Turley graduated from the Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy in October 1997 and began his work in Bean Station, which was more exciting than he knew. “Bean Station then was kinda the hub for lots of drug activity in that entire area and it was always busy there,” he said.

From Bean Station he joined the THP, graduating from the THP Academy in Nashville in July 2000 and was assigned to Knox County. After seven years he was transferred to Sevier County and was back in Knoxville in 2011. He was promoted to sergeant in February 2014 and now supervises six troopers.

THP Honor Guard member Sgt. Mike Turley

Turley also is an eight-year member of the prestigious Tennessee Highway Patrol Honor Guard. In 2015 the state Honor Guard won the national competition event.

He has been in the news before. On Dec. 1, 2015, Turley saved the lives of Thomas and Verlin Yonker when their car crashed during a heavy night-time rain storm on Andersonville Pike. Turley found them in the car at the bottom of an eight-foot embankment. The car was quickly filling with water. It reached Turley’s belt when he got to their car … and he’s 6-3. He rescued both and they survived without injury. Wet, but safe.

On June 16, 2019, Turley was chasing a repeat drunk driver who veered onto a sidewalk while driving the wrong way on Sutherland Avenue. He hit and killed a pedestrian in what was a gory crash. Recently, the man pleaded guilty to charges of vehicular homicide and DUI and accepted a plea deal in Knox County Criminal Court. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, court records show.

That drunk driver killed 65-year-old Darryl Eugene Butler as he walked on that sidewalk. Turley was too far behind and did not witness him hitting Butler. The chase came to an end when the driver struck a curb, flattened a tire and crashed into a utility pole.

As Turley turned off the driver’s car, the sergeant saw something in the passenger side floorboard. It was dark. He got his flashlight and was shocked at what he saw. It was the upper torso of the man walking on the sidewalk. The torso came through the car’s windshield. Turley then went back and found the rest of Butler’s body.

It is a sight he will never forget – “very gruesome.” Turley estimated the driver’s speed was 90 mph when he struck Butler.

To forget scenes like this, Turley spends his off time riding his Harley Hog Street Glide, helping his father on the farm and keeping up with his children – Michael, 23; Hannah, 19; and Madison, 16. Michael is in the 101st Airborne at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, and pulled a tour in Iraq.

Turley loves his job, calling it “something different every day. I’m not going to a factory assembly job and I’m not 1,500 feet underground with dynamite. I also love the brotherhood of the troopers and that’s a strong bond.”

Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and was the editor of two newspapers. He writes this Monday column – Our Town Heroes –for Suggest future stories at [email protected] or call him at 865-659-3562.

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