Trooper Caleb Cross sets ‘remarkable example’

Tom KingKarns/Hardin Valley, Our Town Heroes

If you are driving in Blount, Monroe or Sevier counties while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, driving recklessly or drag racing, with no seatbelt on or chattering on a cell phone in your ear. It’s highly probable you’ll be meeting Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) Trooper Caleb Cross.

His mission, like all troopers, is to serve, secure and protect the people of Tennessee and save lives, and this young man of 27 takes his job very, very seriously. “I feel like I am making a difference when I make a stop and an arrest of a DUI driver or someone who is taking drugs. I’m protecting people and children every day I work,” Cross says. “Maybe people will wake up and realize that they are hurting themselves and other families and killing themselves.”

Wrap your mind around these honors and numbers about Cross based on his 2022 work:

  • Selected as the 2022 Trooper of the Year (Knoxville District)
  • Seatbelt Enforcement Award (508 citations)
  • Hazardous Moving Violations Award (615 citations)
  • DUI Impairment Driving (36 citations)

And on June 8, 2023, in Manchester, Tennessee, Cross was among the law enforcement professionals honored by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) with the State Bronze Hero Award as heroes for their commitment to protecting Tennesseans from these drivers and saving lives.

Trooper Caleb Cross

Including citations issued in the three categories above and a number of others (simple drug possession, felony evading arrest and possession of a firearm while under the influence, etc.), Cross signed approximately 2,100 citations in 2022. That also includes 50 arrests he made. The majority of his citations were issued in Blount County, he says.

Part of his “beat” in the summer months is the infamous curve-filled 11 miles of highway known as “The Dragon.” He’s working it every weekend in June, July and August and is there during the week on an as-needed basis to work accidents. He also enforces 18-wheelers attempting to navigate the treacherous curves of U.S. 129, which is The Dragon. “I enjoy going up there on The Dragon to spread as much safety as I can and stop the accidents. I make a lot of friends up there locally and many from out of town.”

He also puts miles on his SUV on these roads – State Highway 333, U.S. 441 and 321 plus the Calderwood Highway 115, among others. He is part of Troop D commanded by Lt. Russell Smith, Sgt. Randall Huckaby and Sgt. Steve Manning.

Cross is an interesting trooper. A 2014 graduate of Karns High School, he attended Bryan College for two years where he played baseball and then moved to Roane State Community College for an associate degree. Next was East Tennessee State University where he earned undergraduate degrees in clinical psychology and criminal justice while also becoming a registered nurse from ETSU’s College of Nursing.

He spent the next year as an emergency room R.N. at the Johnson County Medical Center and the University of Tennessee Medical Center. “I finally realized that nursing was not for me. I talked with someone about the THP and decided to apply to the best of the best in 2020,” he said. He was hired and graduated from the THP Academy in Nashville on Oct. 21, 2021, and began work in January 2022.

Heroes save lives. There is a case to be made that every time Cross or other troopers – along with police officers and sheriff’s deputies – stop alcohol- or drug- impaired drivers, multiple lives may have been saved.

Cross sees the fatalities, the mangled bodies, the sorrow on the faces of loved ones. The worst one he’s seen was a two-vehicle crash in Monroe County in 2022 on Highway 68 on Tellico Mountain. A drunk driver behind the wheel of a pickup truck had three passengers on board. He drifted over the centerline and hit a car head-on. The driver of the truck survived. His three passengers, not wearing seatbelts, died. Three people were in the car. Two were killed.

Troopers sadly have to break the news to family members about fatalities and the agency policy is that a pair of troopers go together. “You explain to them what happened. We do everything we can to help them, ask them if they need anything, and we even pray with them at times. It’s not easy whether it’s adult victims or children, but it is much more difficult when kids are killed. It’s gut wrenching.”

Cross says that fatalities in Monroe County continue to rise. “We’re trying to figure out why – speed, alcohol, no seatbelts. We had 18 fatalities in 2022 there.”

Cross shared a few more interesting parts of the job:

  • “Many times, when I stop someone, I hear this a lot – ‘my passenger made me do it.’ They blame others every day.”
  • “You never know at times what a woman will do when you pull one over. Some have offered sex to get out of the ticket or shown a body part and try to kick you and fight.”
  • One man who was drunk asked Cross to kill him. “He wanted me to kill him and said I was ruining his life.”

When he relaxes to ease the stress, he’ll be hunting squirrels with his father, Tony. They are in the woods with their dogs in the fall and winter and they love to grill or fry the squirrels. “The meat is phenomenal. I started hunting with Dad when I was 4.” His father owns Knox Iron Works. They also fish on Norris, Fort Loudon, Watts Bar and Fontana lakes.

Knoxville District Capt. Stacey Heatherly has no trouble finding the right words to describe Cross. “With his courageous demeanor and tireless work ethic, Trooper Cross sets a remarkable example for his fellow troopers and embodies the qualities we hold dear in our mission to protect and serve,” she said. “His outstanding performance and commitment to excellence make us proud to have him as a member of our team.”

Tom King has been the editor of newspapers in Texas and California and also worked in Tennessee and Georgia. If you have someone you think we should consider featuring, please email him at the link with his name.


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