Editor’s Note — Throughout the month of July, this series has taken a look at the stories behind the names that are memorialized on several of Scott County’s bridges. July is the month in which America celebrates her independence and freedom, and many of those who have had bridges named after them in Scott County have served their community and their nation faithfully in either the armed forces or law enforcement. The series began with the Col. Joe Cecil bridge over New River and continued with the Cpl. Rusty Lee Washam Memorial Bridge over Buffalo Creek, the Sheriff Mike Cross Memorial Bridge in Oneida, and the Brian Boshears Memorial Bridge in Huntsville. It concludes this week with the John John Yancey Memorial Park in Huntsville.
On Thanksgiving weekend in 2003, Sgt. Hubert D. Yancey had worked for the Scott County Sheriff’s Office for only seven years. It might as well have been 20 years — or more.
That’s how well-known Yancey was within the community that knew him simply as “John John.” He had quickly become one of the most familiar and best-known faces of the Sheriff’s Office, and had risen to the rank of sergeant while also serving as the department’s K-9 officer.
John John Yancey had a laid-back demeanor that served him well in law enforcement. He had a unique ability to put criminal suspects at ease as he went about his job, which was at the forefront of Scott County’s battle against drug abuse — specifically, the methamphetamine epidemic that was raging in the early 2000s. In fact, more than a few of those he busted on drug charges would say they liked and respected John John.
Being a cop was the only thing Yancey had ever wanted to do. Even as a kid, he admired law enforcement officers. Eventually, in the mid 1990s, he asked Scott County Sheriff Jim Carson if he could volunteer as a deputy. Carson agreed, and it wasn’t long before he hired him full-time. Yancey went to the police academy, and within five years was the Sheriff’s Department’s K-9 officer.
Yancey was so popular as a law enforcement officer that he might one day have been sheriff. He intended to run for the office in 2006, his wife would later say.
But on a cold, snowy night in 2003, the father of three entered a meth home in West Oneida. He wouldn’t come out.
It was the day after Thanksgiving. “Black Friday,” it’s called. And while Black Friday earns its nickname from the shopping extravaganza that captivates America. But, in Scott County, Black Friday took on an entirely new meaning. It ended with the community mourning the loss of one of its finest.
The details surrounding that fateful night have never been completely clear, and the passage of time hasn’t offered full clarity. What is known is that cold evening on a holiday weekend, when most Scott Countians were spending time with their families, John John Yancey and several of his fellow officers — including his partner, Drug Agent Marty Carson; another well-respected deputy, Donnie Phillips; and a part-time deputy, Carl Newport — set out to investigate a meth lab at a mobile home in the Williams Creek neighborhood in West Oneida.
At the mobile home, the team of law enforcement officers did indeed find a meth lab, and four suspects. Carson entered first, Yancey followed, a shot rang out, and Yancey called out, “Please help, I’m shot.” He later died at Scott County Hospital.
It wasn’t until the following Monday, as the four suspects inside the home were about to be arraigned in court on meth-related charges, that it was learned that Yancey’s death had been the result of “friendly fire,” as newspaper articles put it at the time. A press conference was held two days later — five days after Sgt. Yancey’s death — to formally announce the findings of a ballistics test: Sgt. Yancey died from a shot fired from his partner’s service weapon.
What followed was years of investigations at the state and federal levels, litigation of a civil lawsuit, and subsequent appeals and rulings.
Finally, in 2018, Scott County formally dedicated a memorial to Sgt. Yancey: the John John Yancey Memorial Park in Huntsville, adjacent to the campus of Scott High School. It was an honor that Sgt. Yancey’s father, Johnny Yancey, had long appealed for to County Commission as a way to memorialize his son.
The park is largely an athletics complex, containing the soccer field, baseball field and softball field used by Scott High’s sports teams. It also includes a picnic area in a small, partially wooded area adjacent to the athletics complex. And, right in the middle of it, a beautifully designed Fallen Officers Memorial was unveiled in the spring of 2019.
Ironically, the park bearing John John Yancey’s name is just across the street from the Scott County Justice Center. Sgt. Yancey never sat down at a desk inside the Justice Center’s law enforcement wing, never presented evidence or testimony inside its courtrooms; the Justice Center wasn’t built until several years after his death.
Sgt. Yancey’s death fundamentally changed the Scott County Sheriff’s Department, and left a deep scar on the community — one which has still not completely healed, and won’t for many years to come.
John John Yancey was the first Scott County lawman killed in the line of duty in nearly 40 years. He was 35 years old at the time of his death. He and his wife, Lori, had three sons: Logan, Blake and Chase. He was also survived by his parents, Johnny Yancey and Judy Gordon.
At a December 2, 2003 funeral service at New River Baptist Church in Helenwood, it took more than 45 minutes for all the law enforcement officers present to be ushered inside the church to pay their final respects to Sgt. Yancey. They came from near and far; virtually all local law enforcement officers — from both the Scott County Sheriff’s Office and Oneida Police Department — were present, but they also came from Campbell County, Morgan County, Anderson County, Knoxville and points beyond. Part of it was a standard show of respect — police officers honoring one of their own. But, on a separate level, it was a testament to the impact that a seven-year veteran of law enforcement can have in a relatively short period of time.
“We have lost a wonderful public servant,” then-attorney general Wm. Paul Phillips said, adding that Sgt. Yancey “was vigorously working to rid this county of the methamphetamine that is doing so much damage to our community.”