Heather Michelle Cooke has managed to pack a lot of living into 30 years. Around the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s Troop A and beyond she answers to “Cookie.” On the highways of Knox County, she’s Trooper Cooke.
This five-year “veteran” is one of three female THP troopers in Knox County.
In addition to her patrol work, she is a member of the troop’s Strike Team and a crash analyst. She also goes to Nashville and sits on the board that interviews candidates applying to the THP. The Strike Team is involved with manhunts, search and rescue missions, natural disasters, and works protests and riots. Cooke also is a member of the Honor Guard at the annual Fallen Officer Memorial ceremony.
“I have always enjoyed investigating. Working crashes, working hit-and-runs, determining DUI’s and drug interdictions all require digging further and investigating,” she said. “I wanted a job that is exciting and challenges me to think, be patient, and have a good attitude, despite some of the occasional insults we all receive on traffic stops. I love my job.”
How does she describe herself? “I’m a kind person and I like to help people. But I am a Type A person too, a perfectionist, who likes to get everything right and be really organized about everything I do,” she says.
She’s a native of Blount County and still lives there. In 2008 she graduated with honors from Heritage High School, where she played percussion for four years in the Mountaineers marching band. Then it was off to the University of Tennessee, where she earned a degree in 2012 in biological anthropology (she volunteered for two years at the UT Body Farm). Since then she has continued her education – graduating from the Community College of the Air Force in 2016 with an associate’s degree in criminal justice. She is currently working on a master’s in criminal justice with a concentration in forensic science with Saint Leo University.
After graduating from UT, Cooke joined the Tennessee Air National Guard’s 134th Security Forces Squadron at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Airbase in September 2012. Almost eight years later she’s a technical sergeant (E-6) in the Air Force Security Force (formerly known as Military Police or Air Police). She has been on deployments to Lithuania (2016), Alaska (2018), Korea (2019) and to Camp Shelby in Mississippi for a Green Beret training exercise (2020).
She says that joining the Air National Guard Security Force helped her choose a career in law enforcement.
Back to her work in Knox County. Are drivers surprised when they realize it’s a young woman under the THP’s classic campaign hat? “A lot of times, yes. I’ve been called ‘Sir’ a number of times. Lots of people say it’s nice to see a female trooper and I mostly get positive feedback,” she said. “Most people don’t give me a hard time, but some people ask me to look the other way and let them go because I’m a woman. A lot of females even try crying on me. But I never, ever look the other way and let them go.”
Cooke says there are two aspects of her job that are scary and hard.
The first is stopping someone on I-40/75, which happens often. “I’ve almost been hit a few times by trucks and cars and had some really close calls. The big rigs that don’t move over or can’t are flying by about 10 feet from me and it’ll blow your hat off,” she says. “We have the Move Over law but many people ignore it or don’t know about it. It’s bad for the wrecker guys and the DOT guys too.”
Also hard is after she works an accident with a fatality or fatalities. It is THP policy that the trooper working the accident notifies the next of kin about the fatality.
“To get to a wreck and see a fatality is a tragedy to witness, but for me, you have to get through the emotions and do your job and not let it get to you,” Cooke says. “There’s no way to describe working one of those and then notifying the next of kin. It’s hard. We take training classes about how to do it. We often go in pairs.”
And then there was the tragic Gatlinburg fire in 2016. Cooke was part of a THP Strike Team sent to help with rescues on Nov. 28. The team members all received the prestigious Lifesaver Award for saving multiple lives that night.
“We were to go in and evacuate people. We were on a road (it was Baskins Creek Road) and came upon a line of cars that were trapped,” Cooke recalls. “The fires were burning on both sides of the road and their tires were melting and embers were flying everywhere and trees falling. It was hectic and intense. One lady already had burns. But we got everyone out of those cars and got them safely off the mountain. One of our guys (Trooper Stephen Barclay) actually carried the woman with burns to safety. I’ll never forget that night.”
Troop A Lt. Eric Miller is Cooke’s supervisor. “She’s a solid trooper and growing all of the time. She really enjoys analyzing and reconstructing crashes,” he said. “Heather is a pro out there. She does her job and does it well. And no, I don’t call her Cookie.”
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Past a cliff and multiple trails, a Massachusetts State Police K9 tracked down two missing teenage girls over the weekend in Western Massachusetts, authorities said Tuesday. Trooper Matt Baird learned around 1:45 a.m. on Saturday that law enforcement in Palmer were searching for two girls, ages 13 and 14, who went missing around 11 p.m., according to a statement from state police. After receiving an object with the girls’ scents on it, Baird deployed his K9 partner, a dog named Caber, behind the family’s house, the statement said. Family members crossed over the search area many times looking for the girls, authorities noted, which made tracking more difficult for the dog. “Caber pulled around the house to the street, working northward,” state police said. “After getting no results, Trooper Baird and Caber turned and worked back on the street in a southward direction.” The dog ventured across the street to a small cliff when a possum ran in front of him. Caber, ignoring the wild animal, moved onto a trail, according to state police. As the trooper and the K9 continued onto a second trail, Caber began to show “increased intensity,” authorities said. The dog eventually pulled through “thick mountain laurel and displayed a proximity alert," according to police. “A few feet later, Trooper Baird saw the two girls just ahead, crouched beside a tree,” state police said. “The searchers walked the girls out of the woods and returned them to their home.” This is not the first successful search Caber has pulled off. In 2016, the dog helped locate a lost hunter in Petersham after local authorities unsuccessfully deployed a bloodhound in the area of the hunter’s vehicle.
Indiana State Police Superintendent Douglas G. Carter recently announced the recipient of the 2019 Indiana State Police Trooper of the Year. This honor is bestowed upon a deserving Trooper that exemplifies the Department’s high standards and expectations as related to the overall mission. Leadership, productivity, service to the community both on and off duty, and assigned responsibilities are just a few areas taken into consideration when nominated. The 2019 Indiana State Police Trooper of the Year is . Waldron’s performance and accomplishments during that year are worthy of such recognition and have earned him this award. Trooper Waldron is a seven-year veteran of the State Police and was appointed on December 21, 2012. During 2019, Waldron was assigned to the Fort Wayne Post, primarily working a night shift in Allen County. Waldron, who has been a K-9 handler with his partner Zeus since 2016, is also certified as a drug recognition expert (DRE). In 2019, Trooper Waldron had 1515 traffic contacts, 31 operating while intoxicated (OWI) arrests (which led the District), 220 criminal arrests (44 of which were for felony crimes), and 124 K-9 usage reports. While working with his K-9 partner, he seized Cocaine, Methamphetamine, Crack, Ecstasy, and Heroin; six firearms and more than $32,000 in U.S. currency. Waldron achieved these goals while missing over 38 days while on active military orders and 20 days of time off taken for the birth of his son. In his nomination, Trooper Waldron was described as a natural leader as exemplified through his genuine courtesy, hard work, and unquestionable integrity. He is a very proactive, dedicated, and self-motivated Trooper that consistently encourages his co-workers to put forth a maximum effort during their shifts. Waldron maintains a rigorous fitness routine, keeping himself fit for duty, and motivates others to do the same. In addition to the duties required by the Indiana State Police while serving the citizens of Indiana, Waldron also serves his country as a soldier in the Indiana National Guard. His notable 18-year military career has included stateside and overseas deployments, and he currently holds a position at the Regional Training Institute at Camp Atterbury, where he serves as a Company First Sergeant. First Sergeant Waldron’s overseas service has included deployments to Afghanistan in 2004, and Iraq in 2008, where he earned his Combat Infantry Badge. He is the graduate of numerous military schools, including: Army Airborne, Air Assault, Pathfinder, Sniper, Primary Leadership Development Course, Basic Non-Commissioned Officers Course, Advanced Leadership Course, Senior Leadership Course and Mountain Warfare. Waldron has a future goal to serve as a District Squad Leader at the Fort Wayne Post, and is currently preparing himself for when that opportunity arises. He attributes the secret to his success to a strong family support system.
Trooper George Baker succumbed to injuries sustained on May 20th, 2020, when he was struck by a Hammond patrol car while removing stop sticks from the roadway during a vehicle pursuit. The pursuit started when officers from the Hammond Police Department attempted to stop a suspicious vehicle. Trooper Baker and another trooper successfully deployed stop sticks on Wardline Road, near the intersection with Kate Street, causing the vehicle to hit them. As the troopers attempted to remove the stop sticks from the roadway, they were inadvertently struck by a responding Hammond patrol car. Both occupants in the fleeing vehicle were arrested a short time later. Both troopers were transported to a local hospital where Trooper Baker succumbed to his injuries on May 24th, 2020. Trooper Baker's organs were donated upon his death. The second trooper suffered non-life-threatening injuries. Trooper Baker was a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and had served with the Louisiana State Police for three years. He had previously served with the Greensburg Police Department for four years and the St. Helena Parish Sheriff’s Office for three years. He is survived by his wife, daughter, parents, and sisters.
The Georgia State Patrol graduated its 108th Trooper School on Thursday, May 14, at the headquarters of the Georgia Department of Public Safety in Atlanta. After 32 weeks of intense training, 31 new troopers will report to one of the 52 patrol posts throughout the state. Instead of the traditional graduation, troopers received their patrol vehicles and were issued the Oath of Office by Governor Brian P. Kemp. Trooper Cadets spend 20 weeks at the academy and 12 weeks in field training. The Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (POST) requires all peace officers receive a minimum of 400 hours of Basic Mandate Training. At the completion of Trooper School, these newly graduated trooper cadets received over 1,500 hours of training, including driving, defensive tactics, vehicle stops, Spanish, criminal law and criminal procedure, firearms, accident investigation, and various other training.
A Michigan State Police trooper recently ran and walked more than 50 miles in a day. Trooper Cabria Shirley, of the MSP’s Houghton Lake Post, began her run at 8 a.m. on Wednesday, May 13, circling the track at Lake City High School. By 6:15 a.m. Thursday, Shirley had run and walked the track 212 times for a total of 53 miles. The number 53 is symbolic, representing the number of MSP troopers who have died in the line of duty since 1921. Shirley’s run coincides with National Police Week, with Friday, May 15, being Peace Officers Memorial Day. With each mile she marked, Shirley placed a Blue Lives Matter flag, each bearing the name of a fallen state trooper. Shirley had purchased the flags and had her fallen comrades’ names added to them herself. Many of Shirley’s MSP colleagues showed up to show their support, with some running along with her. Upon finishing her 53rd mile, Shirley was asked why she undertook the grueling endeavor. “It was a simple decision,” she said. “The fallen members made the ultimate sacrifice. Completing those 53 miles was a small token of my gratitude. I know if given the opportunity, they would have done the same for me.” First Lt. Travis House, the Houghton Lake Post’s commander, lauded Shirley. “Trooper Shirley has inspired us all,” House said. “Her efforts on the track have honored our fallen members and their families in a special way. Her commitment to this undertaking demonstrated courage, and a willingness to sacrifice for others: traits which make her an outstanding trooper and a valuable member of our team at Houghton Lake.”
Two Florida Highway Patrol troopers involved in the pursuit of a stolen car out of Alabama crashed their vehicles Tuesday near the I-10 coronavirus checkpoint where authorities have been stopping travelers during the pandemic. FHP spokesman Lt. Robert Cannon told the News Journal that two state troopers in two separate FHP vehicles crashed into each other shortly before 10:30 a.m. near the checkpoint. Both troopers were transported to Ascension Sacred Heart Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. One of the troopers had to be extricated after he was trapped in his wrecked cruiser, Cannon said. "A trauma alert was initially issued for the trooper who was entrapped, but both troopers are now listed as in stable condition," Cannon said.
A hiker is lucky to be alive after getting caught in swift river water just as an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer trekking a secluded trail with his wife spotted him and teamed with other good Samaritans to pull him to safety, officials said. The river rescue drama unfolded on Saturday in the remote Angel Falls wilderness area near Yosemite National Park, the Madera County Sheriff's Office said in a statement. A 24-year-old Fresno, California, man was hiking in the area along Willow Creek just above Bass Lake around noon, when he tried to wade across the creek, "misjudging the swiftness of the water," the sheriff's office said. The man, whose name was not released, was quickly knocked off his feet by a strong river current fueled by the snowmelt in the Sierra mountains, according to the sheriff's office. "The flow overwhelmed and swept him into a whirlpool, which held him under," the statement from the sheriff's office reads. Here's where the man's luck kicked in. Brent Donley, an off-duty California Highway Patrol (CHP) officer, just so happened to be hiking on the same trail with his wife, Christina Donley, and saw the man in distress. Donley is also trained in search and rescue and had ropes with him that came in handy for the life-saving rescue. "The volume of water that moves every second is enormous," Donley told ABC News on Sunday. "People don't realize." He said that while the equipment he had wasn't ideal, he worked with what was available to fashion makeshift rescue equipment. Three men and two women, who were also hiking in the area about 7 miles from the nearest town, Oakhurst, also sprang into action to help in the rescue. A cellphone video shot by Christina Donley showed her husband tying a rope to a tree branch and tossing it to the hiker a couple of times before the man latched on. As the other good Samaritans held onto him, Donley pulled the man close to the rocky edge of the creek, and together the group yanked him to safety. Donley stayed with the man and performed first aid until a search and rescue team from the sheriff's office and an emergency medical services crew arrived and treated the man for minor injuries. "We sincerely thank Officer Donley for his quick-thinking and preparedness," the statement from the sheriff's office reads. "This Search and Rescue call could have ended very badly if not for his help."
A Utah Highway Patrol trooper was trying to catch a speeder on I-15 in Ogden when he noticed a car swerving. He thought it might be an impaired driver and decided to let the speeder go and stop the other car. When he did, he found a five-year-old driver behind the wheel. According to the UHP, the five-year-old boy had gotten into an argument with his mother because she would not buy him a Lamborghini. That’s when troopers say the five-year-old left. With $3 in his wallet, he got behind the wheel and started driving. Towards California. To buy the car himself. The boy drove about three miles. His trip began at 17th Street and Lincoln Avenue. He then went southbound on I-15 before he was pulled over near the 25th Street offramp around 1:00 on Monday afternoon. The story went viral once the Utah Highway Patrol posted the story and a photo to their Twitter page, with many people saying the boy looked big for his age. UHP Sgt. Nick Street confirmed the boy is indeed five years old but the angle at which the photo was taken may have made him look bigger than he is.
Hundreds of Massachusetts State Police trainees graduated from the academy Wednesday, May 5, in a ceremony that looked very different from years past, due to the coronavirus. The 240 trainees of the 85th Recruit Training Troop were all wearing face masks as they were sworn in at Gillette Stadium Wednesday afternoon. The large venue allowed for the troopers to maintain social distancing during the ceremony, which was streamed online so that family and friends could watch. No spectators were in attendance. In his address to the class, Governor Charlie Baker noted that these graduates are unlike any class before them. “These trainees are becoming state troopers under truly extraordinary circumstances,” Baker told reporters after the ceremony. “They’ve overcome obstacles that no other classes had to deal with.” The trainees completed some of their coursework remotely. Baker said the troopers join the force “during truly unprecedented times” and defended the large ceremony, saying the state desperately needs them on the roads and in the community. “I had mixed feelings about whether or not it made sense to do something like this, but I needed to swear them in before they could actually go to work, and I need them to go to work,” Baker said. “This was deemed as a way to accomplish both of those objectives as quickly as we possibly could.” The new troopers will begin assignments Monday with the start of a six-week rotational period split between field postings, barracks operations, and further specialized instruction at the Academy. Following that six-week period, the new troopers will be assigned to Field Training Officers for a three-month break-in period.
On May 2, 2020, Lieutenant Charlie Caplinger was off duty with his fishing partner, Mike Redmon in a fishing tournament on Center Hill Lake. Around 10:00 a.m., they stopped to fish a spot when they heard a man talking loudly approximately 100 yards away. Initially, they thought he was just talking to his fishing partner. A few seconds later, the man started yelling for help and waving his arms. Lieutenant Caplinger and Mike immediately responded to the call for help. When they arrived at the other party's boat, a man said that his son had fallen into the water and could not swim, nor did he have a life jacket on. Lieutenant Caplinger jumped from his boat onto the other party’s boat. The son, appearing to be in his late 20's or early 30's, was hanging onto a tree covered in thorns. The father and Lieutenant Caplinger tried to lift the son back into the boat but were unable to do so. The other party’s boat began taking on large amounts of water and the rear of the boat started to sink. Lieutenant Caplinger told the father to go to the front of the boat while Lieutenant Caplinger held onto the son. Lieutenant Caplinger's fishing partner Mike, held onto the front of the boat to keep it from going further underwater, and threw Lieutenant Caplinger a life jacket for the son. Due to the circumstances, Lieutenant Caplinger was unable to get the life jacket on the son. Lieutenant Caplinger instructed Mike to put the boats together and push the boats to shallow water until the son could possibly stand on the bottom of the lake. Mike was able to push them to the bank, but the son was too exhausted to stand or move. The son’s lips were purple, and he kept saying, "Please don't let me die.” After getting close to the bank, Lieutenant Caplinger, with the father's assistance, pulled the son onto the back of his boat where he began to recover. Lieutenant Caplinger offered to call 911 for an ambulance, but the family declined as the son started warming up and began to become more coherent. Over the weekend, Lieutenant Caplinger went one step further and checked on the son’s condition twice. The son is expected to be ok.
New York State Police congratulated Trooper Mark Borden of Troop G for helping a woman who had just given birth. NYSP posted on their Facebook page that Trooper Borden had recently responded to a home in Halfmoon for a woman who was in labor. When Trooper Borden arrived, he reportedly found the mother struggling to hold the newborn baby girl, just after giving birth. NYSP say Trooper Borden immediately jumped in to help and found the baby in distress and not breathing. He reportedly helped the baby clear fluid that had built up in her airway, and after a short time, she was crying. NYSP say the baby girl and her mother are doing just fine.
Our community is stronger because we are together during this difficult time. FHP Troopers from Troop F and other first responders surprised Anabella and Valerie with a surprise birthday drive by. Happy birthday, girls!