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Tennessee Deputy Tickets Responder at Crash Scene

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. -- A Knox County sheriff's deputy cited the driver of a Rural/Metro firetruck after the firefighter allegedly wouldn't move his engine out of a lane of traffic at a crash scene on Interstate 75.

Administrators of both agencies contend the incident is isolated, rare and doesn't reflect the kind of relationship that has developed between its members. Knox County Sheriff's Office Patrolman Terry Wright cited Rural/Metro employee Matthew Clift on Tuesday on a charge of failure to obey a lawful order. The disagreement between the men occurred on the southbound lanes of I-75 near mile marker 113, which is north of the Emory Road interchange.

Both men were at the scene because of a traffic crash involving injuries. Clift, 26, apparently had his fire engine, which was serving as a first responder to tend to injuries, situated so it was blocking southbound traffic, according to the citation that was issued about 11 a.m.

"The defendant was asked to move the vehicle (four times) so that traffic could resume to travel southbound," Wright wrote on the citation.

"The vehicle was causing a traffic hazard for other traffic traveling southbound."

Clift was cited to appear July 19 in Knox County General Sessions Court on the charge.

Clift on Wednesday declined to discuss what occurred at the scene.

"My hope is this is taken care of," he said. "It was an isolated incident. There is no bad blood between myself and the KCSO officers."

Knox County Sheriff Jimmy "J.J." Jones said he was aware of the citation, but he has not talked to Wright about the incident. "I don't want to comment because I don't know the details and we don't discuss pending cases before they go to court," the sheriff said.

Jones said the citation is not an indicator of the relationship his agency has with Rural/Metro.

"We have a great working relationship with Rural/ Metro," the sheriff said. Rural/Metro Chief Jerry Harnish said he has not been informed of the details of what occurred before the citation.

"I don't remember anything like this happening before," Harnish said of law enforcement citing an emergency responder. "I can't imagine what brought it to that point."

Harnish noted the importance of maintaining the flow of traffic and how endangered emergency responders are near stopped traffic. He noted last week's crash in which a vehicle slammed into the rear of a Tennessee Department of Transportation HELP truck stopped at a crash scene on Interstate 640 as an example of the dangers of being stopped in traffic.

Whatever occurred on I-75, Harnish said, it could have been handled better.

"If he (Clift) was unfairly cited, we would stand with him," Harnish said. "If he was acting outside the scope of his duties, we'll have to look at it.

"If there wasn't total cooperation, I need to be sure he (Clift) alters his behavior."

Harnish also said his agency has a great relationship with the Sheriff's Office. He said he has called Jones to get together to discuss the incident.

I don't remember anything like this happening before. I can't imagine what brought it to that point."



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