One year after near-fatal accident, Trooper Russell works to get life back on track
By J.J. Kindred | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Sgt. Lowell Russell of the Tennessee Highway Patrol never wanted to be anything else but a state trooper.
A little more than one year after almost losing his life, when a tractor-trailer struck his patrol vehicle and caused it to catch fire on westbound Interstate 40, Russell is still going through a lengthy rehabilitation process. That hasn’t caused him to question his career choices or stopped him from trying to live a quality life.
Russell, 37, of Vonore, was injured just before 3 a.m. March 13, 2012, near the Gallaher View Road exit in West Knoxville.
In an email to The Daily Times, Russell talked about his struggles and his focus of getting his life back on track. “Before my crash, running was my hobby,” he said. “In fact, the doctors said that was one thing that helped me survive. Although this year has been tough, I have not taken any pain medicine since April 2012 due to seeing prescription drugs ruining many lives and families.”
The almost-fatal smashup occurred when a tractor-trailer swerved into the median, sideswiping Lowell’s vehicle as he was finishing paperwork after a routine traffic stop. The vehicle was pushed across the highway, and the semi continued to swerve off the side of the road.
Knoxville Police and EMS personnel helped rescue Russell from the cruiser as it caught fire, and he was taken to the University of Tennessee Medical Center, where he spent a lengthy amount of time recovering.
Russell is a 1994 graduate of Vonore High School and attended Roane State Community College. He also attended Walland Middle, Rocky Branch and (the former) Chilhowee View Elementary schools.
He lived on Laws Chapel Road before moving to Vonore, and most of his family still lives in Maryville.
He began his career with THP in 1998 after graduating from the THP Trooper Cadet Academy that year. He was first assigned to Monroe County in March 1998 and later in the year was transferred to Marshall County.
Russell was transferred back to Monroe County in June 2000. In 2007, he was promoted to sergeant and transferred to Nashville where he served in the Office of Professional Responsibility, now the Inspectional Services Bureau.
In January 2011, Russell transferred to Knox County. His brother, Cory, is also a state trooper.
Memory of the crash
In the email, Russell recalled his thoughts at the accident scene.
“When I realized how bad I was hurt, my first thought was, ‘Is everyone else okay?’ I wasn’t able to talk, so I wrote it on a piece of paper.”
Russell said he has always tried to help others, regardless of the situation.
“After the death of Lance Corporal Frankie Watson, until my accident, I had been working on the Frankie Watson Memorial Scholarship Fund and attending events specifically for veterans, fallen and injured soldiers,” he said.
“I have grown to want to do more for each of those while attending law enforcement programs. This country wouldn’t be what it is today without our military and law enforcement.”
As far as his rehabilitation process, Russell described it as very beneficial, but very tough. He will not be returning to work anytime soon, but Russell is determined he will eventually get back on the job.
“Currently, I’m going three days a week to rehab,” he said. “I still have a ways to go. Although slow, I am seeing some improvement. Currently I still have problems with neck movement, left-side weakness, eyesight, speech and swallowing.
“Every day, I wish I was back at work,” Russell continued. “I started the highway patrol in 1998 and on Tuesday, March 13, 2012, the day of my crash, that marked 14 years and 13 days since I started at the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
“Prior to working at the highway patrol, I was a deputy sheriff for Monroe County for three years. Law enforcement was, and still is my passion. The driveway now looks empty without my patrol car not parked in the spot it has been parked for the past 14 years. I will continue therapy until am able to return to work, and that is my goal.”
On Feb. 28, a Knox County grand jury indicted the driver of the tractor-trailer, Eric Dwayne Lewis, 33, of Orlando, Fla., for aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, violation of the move-over law and failure to exercise due care. He was not injured during the accident.
Lewis was said to have fallen asleep at the wheel, which may have caused the accident, according to law enforcement officials. He and his passenger, Cleotha Nickles, also of Orlando, were reported to be driving for Orlando-based FSH Trucking.
“I don’t have any anger or bitterness towards Mr. Lewis,” Russell said. He said he views life as an opportunity to be the best he can be.
“Life is short,” he said. “I want to be able to help as many others as I can along life’s path. I have joined the First Baptist Church in Madisonville to strengthen my relationship with God and attend church regularly.”
Russell said he wouldn’t be as far as he is in his recovery process without the support of his family and friends.
“They and people that I had never met have been great, and their prayers are the reason I’m here today,” he said.
“There has been a lot of support from everyone. The highway patrol continues to support my recovery, and has been very good to me through this tough year. Even with everything that happened, I don’t have any regrets of serving Tennessee as a trooper.”