‘A true Mountaineer:’ Heritage High School mourns teacher killed in Sunday accident
By Matthew Stewart | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
For the first time in 2½ months, Heritage High
students were working in their classrooms, but something was different Monday.
Faculty, staff and students are mourning the death of Heritage auto mechanics teacher James Michael “Thunder” Roberts, 48, Webb Road, Townsend. He was killed Sunday evening in a one-vehicle accident.
“First days are always met with anxiousness and excitement,” said Heritage High School Principal Earl McMahan. “We had both today, in addition to grief and sorrow. Faculty, staff and students were very respectful on this somber, somber day. It’s touched the Heritage family in numerous ways.”
The Blount County Sheriff’s Office responded to the accident on Webb Road near Berry Williams Road shortly before 8 p.m. Roberts was driving north on Webb Road in a 2006 Chevrolet pickup truck when the truck ran off the right side of the road, came back onto the road and went into the oncoming lane.
He then overcorrected, and went back off the right side of the road, striking an embankment. The vehicle then struck a tree and uprooted it, causing the truck to roll over onto its top.
The driver was partially ejected. Officers said Roberts was not wearing a seat belt. He was taken by Rural/Metro Ambulance Service to Blount Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The Townsend Police Department, Townsend Fire Department and Blount County Fire Department also responded. The Sheriff’s Office Traffic Safety Unit is investigating the accident.
“We are heartbroken by the loss of Mike Roberts,” said Director of Schools Rob Britt. “Our love, thoughts and prayers go out to his family and to the Heritage community.”
Roberts joined the school’s faculty in 2008. It was his first, and only, teaching post.
Roberts was a great educator and human being, McMahan said.
“He was a true Mountaineer,” McMahan said, referring to the school’s nickname. “He had a real sense of pride about this school, coming back and paying it forward as an instructor. He was thankful for every day. He truly enjoyed life, and he was well-liked by staff and students. He’ll be sorely missed.”
Counselors were available Monday for students, said Dr. Alisa Teffeteller, the district’s career and technical education supervisor. Community members, including at least five local ministers, assisted school personnel.
Nine Blount County Sheriff’s Office employees — seven school resource officers and two chaplains — also provided support, said Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Marian O’Briant.
‘One of a kind’
“He’s going to be missed by his educational family,” Teffeteller said. “CTE teachers are a very close-knit group, and Mr. Roberts was a big part of their group.”
“His heart was so big, and his grin was so bright,” said Nancy Kemp, systemwide data coach and communications director, who worked with Roberts prior to assuming the positions. “Everybody loved him. He was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. He had something fun or kind to say about everyone. He’ll be greatly missed, and he leaves behind a huge void.”
“He was one of a kind,” said teacher Randy Byrd, who served as Roberts’ mentor. “He was the same person here as he was anywhere else. He was a genuine, good guy who cared about kids. He liked to help students amass knowledge and skills, moving them from where they were when they got here to industry professionals.”
Roberts sent two students to the 2013 Tennessee SkillsUSA competition, Byrd said. One student received first place and the other student received third place.
“One boy graduated last year, and I’ve got the other one this year,” he said. “I’m going to send him through the auto mechanics competitions just like Thunder would want.”
In addition to serving as Roberts’ mentor, Byrd was his friend. “I’ve known him for more than 30 years. He was one of my students. We later became good friends, good buddies. Connie (Roberts’ wife) and I worked together for years before he started here. We started camping together, maybe 10 families, and vacationed in a bunch of places, such as Myrtle Beach. So, we were close even before we were co-workers.”
The duo became nearly inseparable as colleagues, and they even used to sit next to each other at lunch. “Nobody sat there today. I wouldn’t let anyone. It was empty. However, we’ll pull together as a family and help Connie and the kids whatever way they need us, spiritually or financially. After all, family sticks together.”
Heritage High School is asking community members to keep the Roberts family in their thoughts and prayers.
Children attend school
Roberts is survived by his wife, Connie Horner Roberts, who is Heritage High’s yearbook advisor and teaches computer classes; daughters Kenda Leigh Roberts and Marietta Caroline Roberts; and sons James Taylor “J.T.” Roberts and Michael Tate Roberts.
Mike and Connie Roberts are Heritage High School graduates. He graduated in 1983.
The couple’s three children are part of the Heritage High School family, as well. Caroline Roberts graduated in May, J.T. Roberts is a junior, and Tate Roberts is a freshman.
Mike Roberts served August 1998 to July 2008 with the City of Maryville, said Teresa Best, Maryville’s human resources director. He served two years as a meter reader and eight years as a utility plant mechanic.
The teacher previously worked at Calloway Oil, Dyer Machine & Fab, ICC International, JBL Co. and Newell Rubbermaid. He was a member of Bethel Baptist Church of Townsend.
Funeral services will be held at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Smith Trinity Chapel. Family and friends will assemble for interment at 10 a.m. Thursday at Caylor’s Chapel Church Cemetery.
The family will receive friends from 5 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Smith Trinity Chapel.