The state of the state’s troopers

Published 10:31am Thursday, January 30, 2014

Last week I was driving down Heucks Retreat Road, doing my best to avoid a couple of white-tails and a lazy St. Bernard, when I tuned into what was left of the governor’s State of the State speech. He was pushing hard for patrol school funding, and there providing back-up was Trooper First Class Kervin Stewart.

In 2012 an off-duty Stewart managed to pull a driver from the wreckage of a fiery automobile crash and extinguish the fire that was engulfing him. These actions led to Stewart later being named the state’s Trooper of the Year.

“Trooper Stewart is just one example of the dedication of the fine men and women of our highway patrol,” Governor Bryant proclaimed as the sound of lawmakers’ applause carried across the radio waves.

That reminded me of another incident in which a trooper made a name for himself in a big way. Locals no doubt remember the heroics of John Wayne Leggett, whose story made it way beyond the capitol’s house chamber, earning him a segment on Real Stories of the Highway Patrol and congressional recognition.

Footage of that 1994 incident – including photos of Leggett’s bullet-riddled Crown Vic and details of his capture of two North Carolina prison escapees – are immortalized on YouTube as well. Twenty years later, he is still asked to recount the story.

“No one had ever pointed a gun at me,” the veteran officer says of his encounter with the two convicts near a Brookhaven school. “When I realized what was happening, I thought, ‘this may be the end of it.’”

Only later did he find out that the men he pursued through neighborhood streets had killed the owner of the Ford Bronco they were driving. She was a young mother of two.

Leggett retired in 2011, but bad guys daring to wreak havoc in Lincoln County should still beware. His sons now wear badges and holsters.

Governor Bryant’s push for a patrol school makes sense, since the last one of its kind was held almost four years ago. That means every time a road guy is promoted, quits, transfers, or is called up for military duty, there is no one to take his place.

Highway Patrol officials said a school is the only way to provide relief for the current troopers who are being spread thin in an agency estimated to be operating at 150 below needed numbers.

The Coast’s WLOX reported earlier this month that with the decline in manpower, it can take as long as an hour for a trooper to arrive at crash scenes in that area. WJTV in Jackson has called the trooper shortage a “public safety issue.”

In this session, lawmakers are being asked to provide the money necessary for a 23-week patrol school and all the cars, radios, bullet-proof vests, uniforms, pistols, and shotguns required to get recruits ready for the road.

Incidents like Leggett’s go to show that even here in Homeseeker’s Paradise we can use all the good guys we can get.

The governor was right to remind lawmakers of that, and I’m glad I got to hear it, too, just before the speaker asked the “Lady from Lincoln” (better known as State Rep. Becky Currie) to call the meeting to a close.

Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at