Macon County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Griggs’ patrol car
Deputy Troy Griggs
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When I first learned of Macon County’s plight, I heard about a deputy who had suffered more loss than most could imagine. His home, his sister’s home and his parents’ home had been adjacent to each other, and the tornado destroyed all of them. The twister even picked up his patrol car from in front of his house and threw it 100 yards into a ravine. I knew I wanted to meet this man, eight-year Deputy Troy Griggs.
When I got to Macon County, Griggs was on duty but was in the field looking for a runaway girl. He’s a school resource officer at the local middle school. Later that afternoon, Griggs returned after locating the girl and sat down with me.
On the night of the storm, Griggs was working a school function, and his wife and two-year-old son were at his in-laws’. As the storm approached, Griggs hung around the jail to see if he might be needed, but left to get his family when it looked like the storm would bypass the area.
While at his in-laws’ house, he heard a loud noise, went outside and saw a bright glow in the sky. He checked with the department and learned that the Columbia Natural Gas plant had blown up and flames were shooting more than 400 feet in the air. Every deputy was needed.
As he headed toward home to get his patrol car, he checked again with dispatch and learned a tornado had touched down near where he lives. As he got closer, he saw large trees down and destruction everywhere. A utility worker had to lift a downed power line to let him onto a road that led to his home.
A panicked woman flagged him down and pleaded for help, saying her grandkids were at home alone and she needed a ride to get to them. Griggs helped the woman, and they found the kids were OK inside a home that had been seriously damaged.
As Griggs neared the property where his family’s homes were, his headlights swept across the area and he could see only debris on the ground. “I put my truck in Park and ran down there,” he says. “I got to my mom and dad’s house, and I just lost it. I was yelling for them, trying to go through the rubble with a flashlight. The rain was pouring down and the wind was blowing hard. I couldn’t find them anywhere. I ran over to where my sister’s house had been, and my cell phone started ringing. It was my mom, and she told me they were all OK.”
It turned out his parents and sister had been saved (as had many other Macon County residents) by the explosion at the gas plant. The blast not only caused many residents to go outside, the ensuing fire backlit the approaching tornado. When Grigg’s father saw it coming, he gathered the family, and they fled. The tornado flattened their homes minutes after they left.
After finding out his family was OK, Griggs felt like he had to get to work immediately. “I knew if it was that bad at my place, there were people who really needed help,” he says. But when he looked for his patrol car, he couldn’t locate it. The tornado had taken the car and thrown it into a nearby ravine. “I couldn’t find my car and called another officer to come get me,” he says. “But it ended up they ordered me to stay put and take care of my family.”
As the sun rose on Macon County the next morning, Griggs and his wife stood in the midst of the rubble that had once been their home. “She thought the house had just been picked up and moved off the foundation,” he said. “But all our things were gone. We lost three houses, three out buildings and three barns. I also lost a horse, three beagle hounds, two coon hounds and a bird dog.
“We found my car that morning, and my wife was with me. I can’t really even tell you what I was thinking. My service weapon was found three days later buried in the mud about 50 yards from where the house had been.” The pistol, a Glock 22, was cleaned up and is back at work with Griggs.
Griggs says his experience has been eye opening. “The community has been wonderful. Church groups from everywhere have helped. Many police departments have reached out to me, and people I never heard of have been great to me and my family.”
In spite of the support, the struggle to get back to normal continues. When I asked what’s been the toughest, Griggs visibly choked up and took several minutes to compose himself. “My boy isn’t old enough to understand. He just wants to go home.”
For others dealing with tough times, Griggs stresses one key point: “Don’t keep it bottled up. Talk to somebody.”
Griggs remains very positive about his job. When I asked him what he likes best about police work, he answered quickly. “I like it all. This was a good day—I brought home a runaway juvenile.”