Hawkins deputy killed in 1937 left behind wife, seven children

Jeff Bobo • May 16, 2013 at 2:01 PM

ROGERSVILLE — Nearly 76 years after the death of his father, Virgil Harrell maintains one fond memory of the Hawkins County sheriff’s deputy who died in the line of duty in 1937.

“I don’t have many memories of my dad,” Harrell told the Times-News on Wednesday. “He took me hunting one time. My dad loved to hunt, and he took me hunting when I was about 8 years old. I’ll never forget that. It was a great experience.”

Virgil Harrell, 85, of Kingsport, was among the special guests Wednesday during the inaugural Law Enforcement Officers’ Memorial Ceremony at the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office.

The ceremony honored Hawkins County’s three fallen deputies, their families and fallen officers across the nation.

Harrell was 9-years-old when his father, Deputy Drew Harrell, died in 1937 from injuries sustained while attempting to arrest a man for disturbing the peace.

Deputy Harrell, a four-year veteran of the department, was standing on the running board of a car driven by the man he was attempting to arrest.

He ordered the driver to stop, but the driver refused and sharply turned the wheel, causing the car to turn over on its side on top of Deputy Harrell.

Deputy Harrell was hospitalized with several broken bones and died on June 15, 1937, three days after the crash. He was survived by his wife and seven children, five of whom are still living.

Virgil Harrell said times were hard for his family living in the Clouds Creek area of Hawkins County after his father was killed.

“There was no Social Security at that time, no nothing, so we sharecropped — my family and me,” Virgil Harrell said.

The Rev. Jim Hagy, who offered the keynote address during Wednesday’s ceremony, mentioned that police officers sacrifice time with their families due to the job. That was the case for Deputy Harrell in the mid-1930s as well.

Virgil Harrell recalled, “He stayed gone a lot because him and a fellow named Homer Yankee who lived up in Goshen Valley worked the territory up there in the mountain. They recovered a lot of stills in that country up there at that time.”

The other fallen deputies who were honored Wednesday with their families were Gerald Monroe “Bubba” Gibson and John Wesley Wright.

Gibson was shot and killed the night of July 13, 2000, during a 13-hour standoff with a burglary suspect.

Sheriff Ronnie Lawson recalled during the ceremony that a canine officer had tracked the suspect from a neighbor’s home to the suspect’s home.

“When the suspect arrived, the suspect brandished a rifle and threatened to shoot them,” Lawson said. “During the ensuing standoff, the officer prepared for tactical entry. Deputy Gibson was approximately 40 feet away from the residence preparing to fire a tear gas canister when the suspect opened fire.”

Lawson added, “The suspect was arrested approximately six hours later while attempting to escape. He was charged with murder and later pleaded guilty, receiving a life sentence.”

Gibson was a 15-year veteran of the HCSO, and was survived by his wife and two daughters.

A reserve deputy, Wright was accidentally shot and killed by another deputy on Aug. 16, 1988, while assisting with the apprehension of an escaped convict.

Wright had served with the HCSO for one year and was survived by his fiance, parents and five siblings.

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