Sheriffs across Tennessee mourn loss of THP sergeant, Marion County deputy in helicopter crash

Aircraft tangled with power lines, went down along I-24 in Whiteside

Staff photo by Carmen Nesbitt / Officials prepare for a news conference in Whiteside, Tennessee, where Marion County Mayor David Jackson confirmed to the Chattanooga Times Free Press that a Tennessee Highway Patrol helicopter has crashed.

UPDATE: Marion County deputy killed in helicopter crash identified

Two Tennessee law enforcement officers died in a helicopter crash in Marion County on Tuesday afternoon, officials said.

One was a Marion County deputy sheriff and the other a Tennessee Highway Patrol officer. Officials did not disclose their names, although several sheriffs on Facebook identified the THP officer as Sgt. Lee Russell.

Tennessee Highway Patrol officials held a news conference late Tuesday night outside of Whiteside Church of God.

“Today is a very tragic day for law enforcement,” THP Capt. Travis Plotzer said at the news conference.

The investigation is ongoing and in its “infancy,” Plotzer said.

“What I would ask while the investigation is ongoing, please give the family their privacy as we go forward,” Plotzer said. “Please give them their time to start comprehending what they’re going through.”


Officials would not take any further questions.

The helicopter struck a power line around 3 p.m. Tuesday on Aetna Mountain near Whiteside, Tennessee, officials said.

The collision caused the power lines to fall across Interstate 24 at mile marker 163, shutting down eastbound traffic while officers searched for the wreck. The highway has since reopened.

Marion County Mayor David Jackson confirmed the crash to the Chattanooga Times Free Press earlier Tuesday.

“A THP chopper did get into some power lines and went down,” Jackson said in a phone interview.

The mayor said he could say no more.

On Facebook, the office of Scott County Sheriff Ronnie Phillips expressed condolences to the two victims.

“Our deepest condolences for our Tennessee Highway Patrol family and that of Sgt. Lee Russell, along with his passenger, a Marion County Sheriff’s Deputy, were both killed this afternoon in a terrible helicopter crash while serving the citizens of the State of Tennessee,” the post said. “God bless these dedicated law enforcement officers and their families during this unimaginable time. #GodSpeed.”

The Dickson County Sheriff’s Office issued a similar statement, saying, “Tonight we mourn the loss of Sgt. Lee Russell with the Tennessee Highway Patrol. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends, and brothers and sisters of THP. ... We also ask for thoughts and prayers for the Marion County Deputy who was killed in the crash, their family, friends and coworkers."

The Hardin County Sheriff's Office also praised Russell and offered solemn thoughts and prayers.

"As many are aware, Trooper Russell provided vital assistance to our department on numerous occasions," the department posted on Facebook. "The safety of the people of Hardin County was protected, in part, because of Trooper Lee’s service."

A Federal Aviation Administration spokesperson said late Tuesday in an email the aircraft was a Bell 206 helicopter that struck a power line and crashed in a wooded area. Two people were on board, officials said.

The FAA and the National Transportation Safety Board will investigate. The NTSB will be in charge of the investigation and will provide additional updates, officials said.

Contact Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton.