If you drink and drive, you don’t want to pass by Deputy William Travis. If you care about the public welfare, you most certainly want that impaired driver to come across Travis’ path.
Travis’ passion comes across while talking about his job — his dedication to protecting people from what he calls violence by a vehicle.
“Cars are deadly weapons — they can do real damage to real people,” Travis said. “I tell my rookies that if someone walks into the road shooting, would you arrest them? They say ‘yes.’ There’s no difference between that and getting behind the wheel (impaired). If they had a gun, you would arrest them before they could shoot. Injuries and the impact … of stabbings, wrecks, shootings — how their (victims’) lives change is the same.”
The Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office patrol deputy recently received a Mothers Against Drunk Driving regional award for having the most DUI arrests in Middle Tennessee in 2018.
Travis, a night shift deputy, said his tally of 98 DUI/impaired arrests in 2018 reflects only those cases for an 11-month period that year that resulted in a conviction. It does not count cases in which the suspect pled out on another case or turned evidence in a bigger case for the charges being dropped. He did not provide the number of DUI arrests he made that year.
If you think 98 is an impressive count for 2018, wait until the awards are announced next year.
Travis’ 2019 count is 144 DUI arrests.
As of Jan. 15, Travis said he had made two such arrests. He stopped six, but allowed rookies in training to process those cases. He said his 2019 count would have been higher if not for handing off arrests to rookies.
“It’s a daily crime,” Travis said. “It doesn’t show any signs of letting up. Almost every night I arrest an impaired driver. Some nights it’s at least one. Sometimes it’s three in a 10-hour shift.”
Making DUI arrests does not exactly become routine, he said. But it’s “wrecks that stick with you. Pulling mangled bodies out of mangled cars.”
Another aspect of these cases is coming across drivers with multiple DUI offenses, Travis said, adding he has arrested some people more than once.
“It befuddles me,” Travis said. “I get it that everybody makes mistakes. I make mistakes. I don’t think you should be judged for life for your worst moment,” and added that receiving a first-offense DUI can be an “expensive learning lesson.”
But a second, third or even eighth offense is different, he said. He arrested a man for his 10th DUI offense last year and helped to send him to prison for 10 years. The arrest happened on Almaville Road after the driver allegedly ran a stop sign.
“He jumped out and threw the keys in the grass and threw his hands up,” Travis said. “He smelled of alcohol and refused a field sobriety test.”
In actuality, charging the driver with a 10th offense means police can look at his record only for the past 20 years at the most (many DUI charges only allow an examination going back 10 years).
“At that point you have to know” you’re driving impaired, Travis said.
Travis shared his philosophy on making arrests, a philosophy he shares with rookies.
“You always treat people politely, professionally,” he said. “I don’t need to rub it in. They’re still an American citizen I am depriving of their rights based on an accusation. We are dealing with fellow citizens who have Constitutional rights, and I’m saying as a representative of the state ‘I will deprive you of your rights.’ That should always be a big deal. It’s not a joking matter. Every arrest is a huge deal.”
If Travis sounds like a lawyer, that’s because he was almost one.
Travis grew up in Rutherford and Bedford counties. He is a graduate of The Webb School in Bell Buckle. He earned a history degree from The University of Maryland on an ROTC scholarship and earned his master’s degree at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, studying criminal justice. He attended law school for eight weeks at the University of Memphis after having applied for a job with the RCSO. Law school “was miserable,” he said.
The sheriff’s office called with a job offer for the jail in the middle of a property law class, he said, and he packed up everything and moved home.
“I told everybody I left law school to work at a jail and everyone thought I was crazy,” Travis said.
Travis said he began working at the jail in October 2014. He moved over to patrol in December 2015.
Working at the RCSO is a family tradition. His father, Ken Travis, was a patrol deputy and a school resource officer. His grandfather, James “Pete” Carl Travis, was a deputy who later left to become one of the first police officers for the City of Eagleville, he said.
Travis gives credit to his schools for laying the foundation for where he is today. UTC taught him how to write, present an argument, express his thoughts and talk to people. He taught for a year and learned the academic side of law enforcement. UTC’s criminal justice program exposed him to social welfare.
Travis said he served in both the Maryland and Tennessee Army National Guard. The military taught him discipline and a work ethic.
“It was nothing to work an 18, 22-hour day,” he said of the military. “Here, I work a 10-hour day — it’s half a day. It’s wonderful.”
Travis also tells his trainees that taxpayers pay them for a 10-hour day, so work for 10 hours.
Hard work pays off. When asked how he makes so many DUI arrests and whether he specializes in that, he said no. The patrol division has no special units. Deputies find their own niches, however. Some are good at drug interdiction. Some are good at investigating domestic violence cases. He has the ability to find and arrest impaired drivers. But all of them have the title of patrol officer.
Travis said he did attend a crash investigation school with advanced roadside impaired driving enforcement training, and he achieved an “expert” rating.
“I chose to specialize in what I thought I could be good at,” he said.
Travis credits his passion to his early days of patrolling. He said he worked a wreck in October 2016 after just finishing training and was a new solo officer. It was just before Halloween. Two drunk drivers sent the eight people in their cars to the hospital. Local police usually call the Tennessee Highway Patrol on injury wrecks because of their training. However, the nearest trooper was in Hamilton County. Travis said he worked the wreck but was unsure of himself and swore that would never happen again.
“It’s my sincere belief that if you call the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office you should get a professional law enforcement officer who knows how to handle your problem,” Travis said. “I had to wing it.”
That case took years to clear, and while the criminal charges have been resolved, the civil cases are still ongoing, he said. The drivers will be on probation for years, and the victims will have lifelong injuries.
Drunk drivers create “traffic violence,” Travis said.
“This is violence — this is traffic violence,” Travis said. “It’s no different than driving recklessly or endangering someone with a gun. Stop looking at your phone, wear a seat belt. Impairment is the only misdemeanor that kills,” he said, adding that a first-offense DUI conviction is a misdemeanor.
Deputies do not have portable breathalyzer tests, he said. So, they use their sense of smell and conduct field sobriety tests. Blood analysis results usually take six months.
If the driver fails the field sobriety test and his or her blood alcohol concentration (BAC) later comes back below the 0.08 threshold spelled out in state law, Travis said he can argue to a jury that the person was still impaired, but the jurors may not agree.
Here is where Travis’ legal training kicks in. He said one portion of state law, called “per se,” mentions the 0.08 level. He said another portion of state law allows for a conviction for impaired drivers — from alcohol or any other intoxicant — for a lower BAC.
“I have gotten convictions under 0.08, but they’re hard-fought,” he said.
Travis said the driver’s ability to drive “makes up the offense. We do the absolute best we can. A lot of people we arrest are guilty of reckless driving regardless of what’s in their blood.”
“I don’t understand why people think having a driver’s license and a car gives them the right to endanger other people,” Travis said. “I wish people took the seriousness that gun owners take with permits with driver’s licenses.”
Bad driving decisions
He said he arrested a driver last Tuesday night who was driving 100 miles per hour on Interstate 24. The man said he was driving so fast because he was falling asleep. Travis said he also recently arrested a driver who was driving 110 mph on I-24 East just before the Medical Center Parkway exit. She had an open bottle of whiskey in the car, he said. She was coming from Smyrna toward the most congested area of the county.
Travis was asked if there is a typical time of day for drunk drivers as well as whether most of them are driving home from a bar or other location.
The time of day “depends, he said. After 3 a.m., it’s usually someone coming home from a bar because bars in Nashville close at 3 a.m. That’s especially true of stops on U.S. 41, U.S. 70 and Old Nashville Highway. Earlier arrests often come between 8 p.m.-midnight from people who drank or smoked at home or at a friends’ place and then drove to a club.
Travis said that on the same day he arrested the sleepy driver, he arrested a man who allegedly took drugs after getting off from work.
However, he said he could work on the day shift and make arrests. There is a higher ratio of impaired-to-normal drivers at night, especially after 2 a.m. He worked a wreck at night with the THP last year with either four or five cars — he did not have the exact total at hand. But every driver was impaired.
Several days before this interview, Travis said, he arrested a driver in a subdivision off of Veterans Parkway. He said that driver allegedly told him he would have been just as well off as writing a $10,000 check to Travis to save the time (an approximate cost for the offense, the man said).
He said he once arrested an executive from a prominent local business for allegedly driving 118 mph with a 0.26 BAC. That executive allegedly said he would just “throw money” at the problem until it went away, Travis said.
Travis said he works hard at making DUI arrests because, “I’m tired of pulling mangled bodies from mangled cars. That eats me.”
Impaired driving is not the only thing Travis works on.
He said that arresting people who have large quantities of drugs makes a difference. Last year, his possession arrests resulted in nearly $40,000 in forfeitures.
In late 2019, Travis said he spent two weeks working on a traffic enforcement detail on the school zones in Christiana for distracted driving. While he wrote some tickets, he also reflected on realizing that the majority of drivers do everything right. He only has cause to interact with drivers who make a mistake.
“Most people are doing the right thing,” he said. “We appreciate it when people are following the law.”
Some of Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office deputy William Travis’ more memorable traffic stops:
- In 2016 investigated a crash in which two drunk drivers crashed, sending the eight people in their cars to the hospital.
- In 2019, arrested a driver who was driving 110 mph on Interstate-24 East just before the Medical Center Parkway exit with an open bottle of whiskey in the car.
- In 2019 arrested a man for his 10th DUI offense.
- In 2020 arrested a driver who was driving 100 miles per hour on I-24.