Tennessee Highway Patrol Trooper William McKinley “Will” Satterfield is formidable in his brown uniform, and so are his skills at making East Tennessee roads safer. In six years behind the wheel of a THP cruiser, he’s passed out 586 citations for DUI and impaired driving. Consider the number of lives saved and injuries and heartache that he’s prevented.
“I wish I had more troopers with his ability and drive to remove impaired drivers. He truly does an outstanding job,” said Capt. Michael Melhorn, head of the THP’s East Tennessee District.
Satterfield joined the THP in 2013. His patrol area covers Knox County and from time to time Union County, his childhood home. For the past five years he’s been the “midnight trooper” on patrol, 9 p.m. to 7 a.m. He volunteered for that shift so he would be available for his three kids since his wife works days.
His DUI number would be higher had he not missed six months of work in 2017. He tore a pectoral muscle lifting weights and had to have surgery.
Satterfield, 35, was reared in Union County by his mother, Ellen, a seamstress, and his “Pappaw,” the Rev. Louis Bryson Williams, a retired school principal. “He instilled discipline in me and was very influential,” Will says.
Will is an imposing 6 feet 2, 265 pounds. He bench presses 450 pounds. He married his high school sweetheart, Ashley, while they were seniors at Union County High.
In high school, he was known as “Billy Mac.” He was a tight end and defensive end on the football team and second in the state in quarterback sacks. No scholarship offers came his way. “College coaches don’t bother watching football in Union County,” he said. “I wasn’t this big then, too. It’s all worked out great.”
And, this all-around young man was selected as the school’s “Mr. High School” in his senior year. Professionally, he’s also collected a number of impressive awards and honors:
- Class President, 2013 THP Academy, and he was the graduation speaker.
- MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) DUI Trooper of the Year, 2014
- Trooper of the Year in 2015
- GHSO East Tennessee Trooper of the Year, 2015
- THSO East Tennessee DUI Trooper of the Year, 2016
- Optimist Club Trooper of the Year, 2018
He’s also received three MADD Gold Enforcement awards plus Silver and Bronze awards. In 2016 he completed the very rigorous drug recognition expert course, and in 2018 earned his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Bethel University.
“Trooper Satterfield is one of our best DUI and drug-impaired enforcement troopers. He is well-versed in detecting and removing impaired drivers and continues to save lives with his enforcement efforts,” says Capt. Melhorn. “He’s always willing to share his knowledge with younger troopers. As a drug recognition expert, we often depend on him to assist with teaching others who want to become experts. Trooper Satterfield is simply one of those guys who performs his duties day in and day out without the need for constant supervision.”
Satterfield also is a four-year member of the 21-member THP Honor Guard. “All troopers are invited to apply to become part of the THP Honor Guard; however, members are selected through an interview process that includes a recommendation from their supervisors. They also must display a strong work ethic with no disciplinary issues,” Melhorn said. “It is a very prestigious honor and one that many wish to be a part of.”
Those 586 DUI citations and his training led to a question: “Do you arrest more men or more women for DUI?”
“Well, in my case it’s about 55% women versus 45% for men,” he said. “And let’s be fair about this: There may be a reason. It takes less alcohol for a woman to become impaired compared with a man, who is typically larger.”
He said the women he stops are more difficult to deal with than men. “In my experience the men are easier. They go with the flow. Some argue, but it hardly ever gets physical. They don’t want to fight with me. The women are OK, even flirty sometimes, and try to talk their way out of a ticket. But when you tell them that they are under arrest and you start to cuff them things can get bad real fast,” he explained. “I call this ‘jail-itis’.”
His law enforcement career began after high school. After trying a few jobs, he joined the Union County Sheriff’s Office in 2005 as a deputy and also joined the U.S. Army Reserves. The tragedy of the 9-11 attacks crushed Will. “When that happened my heart just about beat out of my chest.”
Army basic training was at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and in 2006 he shipped off to Iraq with his 844th Engineering Battalion. He was there for a year, clearing routes for convoy security missions. He came back in 2007 to rejoin the sheriff’s office, then left for drill sergeant school at Fort Knox. He spent two years there, and to this day he has the drill sergeant look.
In 2011 he was transferred to Fort Hunter Liggett in California, where he was a pre-mobilization instructor for deploying reserve and National Guard units. While there a civilian security company offered him a contract to work security in Afghanistan and he was off to the dangerous Helmand Province for the year 2012, pulling security duty for the U.S. Marines there.
In late 2012 he was home on a two-week leave to rest and see his family. That’s when he got a call from the THP. He had applied six months earlier but had heard nothing. He returned the call and did not return to Afghanistan, but began the process of interviews and series of tests for the THP. He was hired and began the 21-week THP Academy in Nashville.
“Every man has a calling in life and mine is service. I was taught that growing up and also learned it from my teachers. I still have breakfast from time to time with one of my favorite teachers at Maynardville Elementary, Pat Walker,” Will said.
Church also was a big part of his life at Grace Full Gospel Baptist Church in Maynardville. At 26 he was ordained as a deacon. Today he and his family are members of Grace Baptist Church in Powell.
Wife Ashley supervises the governmental law library at Knoxville’s City County Building. They have three children. Mikah, 17, is a senior honor student at Powell High School; Kaleb, 14, is a freshman at the L&N STEM Academy; and Gabriel, 7, is at Powell Elementary. This tough guy’s face lights up when he’s talking about their kids.
Satterfield tries to be friendly, open-minded and fair. And how does he wind down after the long shifts? “Working in the yard, deer hunting and working out at the gym,” he says.
He’s most proud of his Trooper of the Year award in 2015. “That award is for a combination of hard work and extracurricular activities away from work,” he said. “It means a lot to me.”
Last Wednesday evening after we met for a picture-taking session, he was cruising along North Campbell Station Road in Farragut and saw a Jeep Wrangler speeding and weaving on the roadway and was pretty sure he had an impaired driver on his hands. He did.
He chased the driver down Northshore and onto Harvey Road. Then the driver was back on Choto Road past the Choto Marina to a subdivision. Near the end of the chase, a deer jumped across the hood of Will’s cruiser and damaged the front passenger side fender.
Deer and all, he did stop the driver and arrested him. Turns out that he had just arrested this man six days earlier for DUI. So Thursday morning he was in court before a judge with the man he arrested for the second time. “He’ll be in jail for a while this time,” he said. After court, it was off to a body shop for an estimate of repairs and back on duty at 9 p.m.
Any dull nights for this trooper? “I don’t like dull nights. I do my best not to have those.”
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.