Cpl. Terry Johnson, beloved within the Sebastian County Sheriff's Office as a leader and "gentle giant," was killed in a one-vehicle accident Saturday while serving and protecting his county.
Johnson, 48, succumbed to his injuries at approximately 12:42 p.m. Saturday in the intensive care unit at Mercy Fort Smith. Johnson was on the tail end of the graveyard shift he had begun at 6 p.m. Friday when shortly before 4:20 a.m. Saturday a crash occurred just past Arkansas 96 and Arkansas 252 in the Lavaca area. After a Lavaca resident called 911 and reported the crash, authorities arrived and discovered that Johnson was the victim.
"Today is every sheriff's or chief's personal nightmare," Sebastian County Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck said during a press conference Saturday afternoon as he fought back tears. "Our entire department is mourning, as is his wife, Carla, to whom he was married for four years."
When the Lavaca resident reported the crash, a Sheriff's Office dispatcher attempted to contact Johnson and notify him of the crash. However, Johnson, whom his colleagues described as always prompt and quick to answer any call to serve, did not respond.
At the scene, emergency responders found Johnson's patrol unit on its side in a ditch, his body pinned inside.
"He was trapped inside the vehicle for well over 45 minutes," Hollenbeck said.
Emergency responders used the Jaws of Life to extricate Johnson from his vehicle, and rushed him to Mercy Fort Smith.
"Doctors and nurses worked for several hours attempting to resuscitate Cpl. Johnson," Hollenbeck said.
As medical personnel fought to save Johnson, his friends, family and fellow law enforcement officers from numerous agencies stood by at the hospital consoling each other and praying for his recovery.
"The outpouring of love from his family to all the other law enforcement agencies that were there was astronomical," Hollenbeck said. "It's all hands on deck; we wear different uniforms, but we are a brotherhood."
Johnson died from multiple injuries, including massive injuries to his neck, which caused a prolonged lack of oxygen to his brain, Hollenbeck said.
The accident is under investigation by Arkansas State Police. Johnson's body was transported to the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory in Little Rock for an autopsy, according to a news release issued by the Sheriff's Office.
Johnson began his career with the Sheriff's Office in 1996, starting as a deputy in the Detention Center, but rose up the ranks to the position of shift sergeant. In 1999, Johnson was transferred to the patrol division, and in 2012 was promoted to the rank of patrol corporal.
Johnson, who stood 6 feet, 8 inches tall, was revered by his peers and affectionately referred to as the Sheriff's Office's "gentle giant."
"He was a man of few words," Hollenbeck said. "When he spoke, people listened to him. He was a leader within our department and the type of law enforcement officer we all wanted to be."
The men and women who served alongside Johnson are in pain, Hollenbeck said.
"They're mourning, they're grieving, they're hurting, but they're coming together as brothers and sisters," Hollenbeck said. "The deputies are protecting each other, and they will continue with pride to protect and serve the people of Sebastian County."
Maj. Kevin Nickson said that he and Johnson had been friends ever since Johnson came to work for the Sheriff's Office.
"It's a terrible loss to the department ... and a terrible loss as a friend," Nickson said. "It's never enough time to tell him how much you care for him."
Investigator Philip Pevehouse recalled Johnson's loyalty as a friend and dedication to serving his county.
"Terry was not afraid when you called him for an assignment," Pevehouse said. "No matter what the assignment was, he was there."
It was was Johnson's unbreakable strength of character and tremendous work ethic that made him such an outstanding law enforcement officer, Hollenbeck said.