THP Sgt. Steve Galyon ready to begin a new life

By Kathy Helms-Hughes
STAR STAFF

   It's not everyone who can start off their birthday by telling their boss: "Take this job and shove it," like country singer Johnny Paycheck did; but when Jan. 15 rolls around, Tennessee Highway Patrol Sgt. Steve Galyon fully intends to walk out the door.
   It's not that Sgt. Galyon doesn't like his job or co-workers ... he does. But after more than 30 years of service, counting credit for military time, it's time to hang up his hat and go to the house. On Jan. 15, Sgt. Galyon will turn 53.
   "It's my last day to work. That's my present to me," he said.
   He's not going to miss being cursed at by speeders and drunken drivers. He's not going to miss rushing to a 10-46 (accident with injuries in Ten Code jargon) on U.S. Highway 19E. And he also will not miss reconstructing an accident in which someone died because they didn't like to wear their seat belt.
   "I'll miss the guys, but that'll be it. I've always had a good bunch of guys to work with, not only the Highway Patrol but the county and city, too. They've all been real good," he said.
   Sgt. Galyon began his Highway Patrol career in September 1972, a year after he got out of the Army. He applied while completing a 13-month tour of duty in Berlin, Germany, where he served as a records specialist.
   "If you were going into law enforcement, you could get a 30-day early out from the service. And I wanted out, you know? When I applied, me being overseas, there wasn't any way I could take the Civil Service exam, so they sent me a letter saying that if I was still interested when I got back stateside, to reapply."
   Sgt. Galyon worked for United General Products in Knoxville for a year before submitting another application to Highway Patrol. "I went down and took the Civil Service test and got a letter to come in for an interview. "I thought, 'Man, I'm really flying.' "
   When he arrived at the Knoxville Highway Patrol Office, however, he found he wasn't as special as he thought. "It seemed like there was a hundred people down there," Galyon said. However, about six weeks later, he received a telephone call and a certified letter telling him he had been hired. He was shipped off to the police academy at Donelson, on the outskirts of Nashville.
   "They sent me down to Donelson for eight weeks of training. That was all we had to do then. It's up to 26 weeks now," he said.
   Since his beginning days at Highway Patrol, Sgt. Galyon has seen many changes. "When I started I had to share a patrol car with another trooper. Now, everybody's got their own car. We didn't have radar then. Of course, we do now in each car."
   The father of fellow THP Trooper Mark Musick helped area troopers receive video cameras for their vehicles, a "big plus" in law enforcement.
   "Our video cameras in Carter County were actually started by the late Judge Jack Musick. He was watching one of these cop shows and they were showing videos. He got to talking to Mark: 'Why don't you all have any video equipment?' And Mark said, 'Well, the state just doesn't have any.'
   "He said, 'I'm going to talk to some people and see about getting you all video cameras.' So he went to some individuals and businesses and so forth, and he got enough funding to buy all of us a video camera to put in our patrol car," Sgt. Galyon said. "We were the first county that I know of in this district that all of the troopers had video cameras in their cars."
   Duty weapons also have changed over the years, according to Galyon. "When I started we had .38-caliber six-shooters; now we have got Smith & Wesson .40 caliber's with 15 rounds. The .38 revolvers had six rounds in them. Of course you carried extra ammunition with you, but after your fired those six, you had to reload," he said.
   Sgt. Galyon met his future wife, Suzanne -- then a photographer for the Elizabethton Star -- while working for Tennessee Highway Patrol.
   "I stopped Suzanne and wrote her two tickets. She had just started working at the Star and both times she was late going to work. I got her basically at the same place on the Hampton four-lane a week apart, running about the same speed -- I think 80-something.
   "Of course, I got to know her because she did photography and would come to wrecks and things," he said. But laughing, added, "She decided she was going to have to marry me to keep me from writing her tickets."
   The Galyons have two daughters, Christy, 26, and Heather, 21. "And I've got three granddaughters," he said proudly. "Tayler, 6, Ashley, 2, and Kailee, 2. Christy and Heather had them about the same time. One in July and one in September. Heather's was a 9999 -- Sept. 9, 1999."
   During his career, Sgt. Galyon has had several close calls. "I've been in three shooting incidents in my 29-plus years. Usually, an officer in his career does not get involved in a shooting incident. It's not the norm by any means."
   As a lifetime member of Carter County Rescue Squad, Sgt. Galyon has seen his share of blood and gore, he said. So being an accident reconstructionist no longer keeps him awake nights.
   "If it's elderly people or a kid or young people, you hate to see stuff like that. You especially hate to have to go tell the family. You see so much ... but some of it will bother you for a short time," he said.
   Born and raised in Knoxville, Galyon has spent his entire career in Carter County, which is unusual, he said. "A lot of times when you get promoted, you end up going to a different county, but I managed to stay here."
   His retirement will leave two troopers in Carter County and one in Johnson County, well below the number in 1972 when he first began.
   "There were two of us came up here at that time. That made three troopers and a sergeant in Carter County. There was just one in Johnson County but I've had as many as three in Johnson County and I've had five in Carter County at one time," he said. "We need a minimum of two in Johnson and need at least the five that we used to have in Carter."
   The shortage is not just locally but statewide, Galyon said. "It's a budget thing. We've been losing people and they haven't been replacing them. They weren't going to have a school but they've put it back in to start one in January." Of the 88 or so people who will attend, Galyon hopes they will graduate at least 55 or 60. "But that's not even a drop in the bucket. Some will quit, and they'll weed some out, and some just can't make it," he said.
   To be a member of the Highway Patrol, according to Galyon, "You've got to want to work with the people, and you've got to be able to do your job. There's a lot of times you don't want to, but you have to."
   The job also has its lighter moments. Galyon recounted one instance involving a woman who left the VFW one night, back when Elk Avenue was still a two-lane road.
   "She came down in my lane. I was the first vehicle she was meeting. So I pulled over to Marshall Nave's store, at that time, and let her go on by, then I pulled in behind her and got her stopped down about the box factory (Inland Container). Well, I turned my spotlight and shined it on her outside mirror, which is a thing I did at that time so people couldn't see me walking up to the car. When I was walking up, she had her window down and she was licking her hand. She'd lick her fingers and rub her mirror, lick her fingers and rub her mirror.
   "I said, 'Ma'am, what are you doing?'
   "She slurred and she said, 'I'm trying to get this spot off of my mirror.'
   "It was the spotlight she was trying to wipe off of her mirror," Galyon said.
   "I asked her for her driver's license and she fumbled around and finally found it and I asked her, 'Would you step out of your car?' She got out and closed the door and she leaned against her car to keep from falling down. So, of course, I told her she was under arrest for DUI.
   "I said, 'Ma'am, I need you to step back to my car.' She turned her head and looked back there and leaned back against her car again.
   "Ma'am, I need you to please step back to my car," Galyon said again.
   "She looked back there again and turned around and leaned back against her car. I said, 'Ma'am, I don't want any trouble. Please, I just need you to walk back to my car.' She looked and turned around at me and said, 'Which one?'
   "She was seeing more than one," he said, laughing. "I had to assist her to the right one."
   Galyon said he often gets cussed by the people he stops. "Not just from drunks either. Some say, 'Why are you stopping me? Why aren't you out here arresting drunk drivers?' "
   Galyon's reply? "Well, if I didn't have to stop you for speeding, I'd probably get one."
   He's also stopped his share of prominent people and relatives of politicians. "In my earlier days, I would have thought I would have been fired. I knew for sure I was going to be getting a call to go to Nashville, but never did," he said. "I've just done my job and let everything else fall where it may."
   After retirement, Sgt. Galyon and his wife plan to sell real estate for Braswell Realty in Newland, N.C. "It will be a lot calmer and it won't be punching a time clock," he said.