Seizing snakes, wrangling bears, naked suspects: TWRA officer closes out 40-year career

Published: Apr. 26, 2019 at 5:52 PM EDT
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From vipers to bears to suspects, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency Officer Wayne Rich has seen it all.

Rich began his career with TWRA in 1982, just a few days after graduating from the University of Tennessee, working part-time in boating safety enforcement in Knoxville during the World's Fair. Shortly after that, he got a position as a wildlife officer in Hawkins County before transferring to Jefferson County in 1984 where he remained until his retirement.

Rich's work history is a colorful one, including instances with snake-handling pastors, an adult book store, illegal trophy hunting, boaters boating under the influence, fugitives from justice and murder suspects.

In one case, Rich, along with officers Hollenbeck and Shelley Hammonds, executed a search warrant seizing over 40 vipers from a snake-handling pastor. They seized several more snakes, in a different case, from an adult bookstore in Cosby.

"Known as a fearless and dedicated officer, Wayne excelled in his law enforcement duties," TWRA said on Facebook.

In one day, he, and several other officers, arrested six suspects for boating under the influence, driving under the influence and public intoxication.

On one night in 1995, he helped issue 20 citations charging five people for killing three bears illegally in three different counties. "The dear poachers around the county also feared Wayne," TWRA said. "In only two of the hundreds of deer cases he made, he successfully prosecuted different suspects for illegally killing trophy whitetail bucks costing them $10,000 each in fines, court costs and restitution."

Rich has helped recover stolen boats and vehicles, helped apprehend fugitives, seized drugs and other contraband and arrested multiple suspects in connection to murder cases.

TWRA said, along with that, he also participated in projects with the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, was part of Hurricane Katrina relief efforts and participated in Operation Smoky and Operation Moonstruck.

Across his 40-year career, Rich has been Wildlife Officer of the Year five times and was Boating Officer of the Year once. He has also been named statewide Wildlife Officer of the Year during his career by the Shikar-Safari Club International and the TWRA Officer's Association.

TWRA said beyond his duties in law enforcement, emergency response and his awards, he has been heavily involved in education efforts. "He helped lay the groundwork for the wildlife observation area at Mossy Creek and certified thousands of students through the hunter education program." He has also helped lead the Jefferson County 4H Patriot Shooters to multiple state and national titles.

Rich has kept working right up until the end. On Monday, he apprehended two suspects, both of whom were "stark naked," in the backseat of a stolen vehicle at the Shady Grove Access Area with the help of his son, Chase. Chase was hired as a TWRA officer in 2015 and also works in Jefferson County.

On April 26, 2019, the TWRA Regional Office in Morristown held a retirement party for Rich where he reflected on his lengthy and successful career, "There's been a lot of water passed under the bridge and a lot of footsteps through the woods the last 37-plus years. It's been a roller-coaster ride...a lot of ups and a lot of downs."

TWRA said as the retirement party was winding down, a call for boater assistance on Douglas Lake came in. TWRA said Chase asked his father, "Do you want to go get a stranded boater?"

Wayne replied, "Let me go home and change clothes first."

"There will never be another game warden like Wayne Rich," TWRA said.

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