LOUDON COUNTY, Tenn. — East Tennesseans from across the area paid their respects to fallen Loudon County Sergeant Chris Jenkins, who died on duty after investigators said a semi-truck driver under the influence hit him on Interstate 75 Thursday.
Hundreds of officers escorted Jenkins' body Friday to the Loudon Funeral Home Friday. A seemingly unending line of law enforcement vehicles could be seen driving down I-40 and I-75 ahead of the hearse.
The escort began around 12:30 at the Knox County Forensic Center on Kingston Pike. It then entered onto US 129 and then onto I-40 West to I-75 South to Exit 76 to Sugarlimb Road, where Sergeant Chris Jenkins passed by the Loudon County Justice Center where a memorial for him had been set up.
Memorial for Loudon County deputy
The escort then turned right onto Highway 11 and traveled into Loudon City to the Loudon Funeral Home.
The public paid their well wishes and respect in solemn silence along the route, with people placing their hands over their hearts as the hearse passed.
The Loudon County Sheriff's Office and the community at large have been mourning after a semi-truck hit and killed the long-time deputy, who was trying to remove a ladder that fell out of a vehicle on I-75 in Loudon County.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol said Sgt. Chris Jenkins died after being hit by a tractor-trailer Thursday morning despite conducting a rolling roadblock to stop traffic. The driver of that truck, Christopher Savannah, 43, from Houston, was under the influence at the time, investigators said.
THP said they found Savannah still in the driver's seat after the crash. Savannah was cooperative and did consent to Standardized Field Sobriety Tests. Savannah denied drinking, taking any illegal substances or medication at the time, stating that he had only taken vitamins.
THP said they noticed the smell of marijuana coming from the vehicle and found marijuana along with other drug paraphernalia. Based on a DRE evaluation, Savannah is believed to have been under the influence of marijuana at the time of the crash.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol said the driver faces charges of vehicular homicide by intoxication, vehicular homicide by recklessness, reckless endangerment, DUI, having a gun while under the influence, and some other drug charges. They also said an inspection of the tractor-trailer is being conducted.
Savannah was formally charged and arrested Thursday evening, according to authorities. He is being held at the Roane County Detention Facility.
The LCSO said they used the handcuffs of Sgt. Jenkins to take him into custody.
"We are devastated," the LCSO said. "We are a family, and we are heartbroken. We cannot thank everyone for your continued prayers over the coming days."
According to THP, Jenkins put a rolling roadblock in place on I-75 North at mile marker 74 around 8 a.m. to remove a ladder from the interstate. As Jenkins was outside, THP said a tractor-trailer hit him and three vehicles, including the deputy's cruiser. The LCSO said Jenkins died from his injuries a short time later.
THP said multiple agencies, including Oak Ridge Police, Anderson County Sheriff's Officer, Lenoir City Police, and the Blount County Sheriff's Office are assisting the Loudon County Sheriff's Office through this difficult time.
Matt Fagiana with the LCSO said Sheriff Tim Guider was with that deputy's family Thursday morning.
"It's our worst nightmare... our absolute worst nightmare," Fagiana said. "We're living it right now. We're a family. This is a small agency and this is home to us. Everyone here is a person without a number. It's indescribable."
Ninth District Attorney General Russell Johnson said his office is investigating to determine whether charges will be filed. He said the driver of the semi-truck willingly submitted to a blood test and was interviewed after the crash.
He said investigators are also trying to find the driver of the vehicle that dropped the ladder onto the interstate.
"Something like this could easily have been secured, and Sgt. Jenkins would be here today," he said. "Everyone loves Chris and loves his family. We’ve grown up with him.”
According to Johnson, investigators are looking for a white utility vehicle. He said at least one witness noticed the vehicle had an unsecured ladder in the back, saying they watched as it slipped off the tailgate and came out the back. The driver and others had to swerve to avoid the ladder, according to Johnson.
Anyone with information about the crash, or how the ladder fell onto the interstate, is asked to contact the DA's office at (865) 376-2145.
Sgt. Jenkins joined the department as a corrections officer in 2002. He rose through ranks to join the K9 team in 2007, was promoted to patrol corporal in 2018, and was named Sergeant last year, according to Fagiana. He served in the military and joined the department upon his return.
He leaves behind a wife and two kids, including a daughter in high school and a son who is also a Loudon Co. patrol deputy, Loudon County Mayor Buddy Bradshaw said.
A memorial with Sgt. Jenkins' K9 Patrol Unit has been set up in front of the Loudon County Justice Center for those wishing to leave flowers and pay their respects.
According to Johnson, Jenkins was first cousins with another LCSO deputy who also tragically died on duty in March 2004 - Deputy Jason Scott. Scott was shot and killed while responding to a disturbance. In 2014, the state honored Scott by naming part of Interstate 75 in Loudon County between mile marker 68 to 81 after him, and the East Tennessee law enforcement community continues to honor and remember him.
The Knox County Sheriff's Office asked for prayers for the deputy, their family, and the LCSO.
The Knoxville Police Department and several other law enforcement agencies expressed their condolences.
The crash on I-75 happened at Mile Marker 74 around 8 a.m. at the Tennessee River bridge southwest of Lenoir City, according to the Tennessee Department of Transportation. At 2:21 p.m., TDOT said that all lanes are back open.