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Lowell Russell

Lowell Russell

By Zach Knott

Lowell RussellWithin seconds of impact, Sgt. Lowell Russell’s patrol car had engulfed in flames. The impact of the runaway semi-truck, whose driver had fallen asleep, mashed metal and broke bones. Smoke filled his lungs, and flames crept nearer as he sat unconscious, trapped by his life-saving seatbelt. Death surrounded Lowell Russell.

Lowell has an unfortunate familiarity with death in his adult life. His mother and father each died unexpectedly within four months of each other in 2009.

As a member of the Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP), he served many death notices to families that lost loved ones. Going beyond his duty as an officer of the law, Lowell often remained in contact with victims’ families for months, assisting with arrangements and offering support.

“I’ve made it a personal goal to try and attend every funeral of any vehicle fatality I’ve worked in my career to support the families in their time of grief,” said Lowell.

But his generosity goes beyond mere attendance. His presence and actions have helped shaped the lives of many.

In 2011, a THP trooper attempted to pull over a young 20-year-old man. The young man was drunk and tried to flee, eventually crashing his car into a tree 15 feet from the road. According to reports, the trooper drove past the initial scene of the crash, claiming that he had lost sight of the vehicle.

Lowell was on the young man’s front porch shortly after the wreck, serving a death notice to his father. The particular interaction stuck with his father.

“I was seeing pain in his face, as he saw pain in mine,” said the father of the victim.

The victim’s father now gives speeches to public school children on the value of taking responsibility. The death of his son could have been avoided by making better decisions. But it was Sgt. Russell’s actions that inspired him.

Dashboard cameras confirmed that the trooper drove past the young man’s car, not stopping to check on the driver. Lowell would present that tape to THP Internal Affairs, offering evidence against a senior officer. The trooper, who had been involved in a similar incident one year earlier, was fired by the THP.

The victim’s father admires Lowell for “doing the right thing,” although it was something that could have negatively affected the trooper’s career.

“If the Lowell Russell story never came out, I would not be giving speeches,” he said. “He is a hero.”

Lowell’s story has been detailed in local and national news stories for more than three years now. The near-unbelievable timing of paramedics, police, and ordinary citizens that saved his life was described by the Knoxville Police Department’s Chief, David Rausch, as “divine intervention.”

The burnt car, exploding ammunition, and unlikely box cutter are all detailed in his book, Trial by Fire. Lowell had no interest in writing the biography until he realized its potential. Every dollar earned from book sales are donated to the LCpl Frankie Watson Memorial Scholarship Fund, named after a young man whom Lowell had mentored. The fund provides money each year for one Sequoyah High School (Monroe County) graduate to attend college to train for a career in public service.

The relationship between Lowell and Frankie was forged in 2004 when Lowell gave the 14-year-old rides to football practice, letting him sleep in his guest bedroom when early practices required 6 am attendance. Frankie would go on to graduate high school and join the United States Marines.

Along with Frankie’s parents, Lowell was on the notification list in case of his friend’s injury or death. On September 24, 2011, the trooper was told to return home when he arrived at work. On that day, it was Lowell who was informed by representatives from the Marine Corps that the Marine that he helped raise was dead – killed by an enemy sniper’s bullet in Afghanistan.

“I just wanted to get Frankie’s story out,” said Lowell.

Lowell’s book is his way of paying tribute to Frankie, as well as all fallen members of the military and law enforcement.

Through all his struggles, Lowell has been able to find hope and gain perspective during times of despair. The former THP officer credits his religious faith in finding strength when faced with such tragic events, knowing there is a reason for the obstacles.

“God is always preparing us for bigger trials down the road,” said Lowell.

Lowell’s past has shaped every decision he makes and story he tells. But tragedies do not define his future. His faith will not allow that. Instead, Lowell will continue strengthening his voice – readying it for the next opportunity to tell the tales of heroes.

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