Warren County resident Billy Prater is still working to save lives.
As a Highway Patrol Lieutenant, Prater was recently honored with his 35-year service award by Highway Patrol Capt. RC Christian.
“It may sound cliché to say something like that, but I still believe I can make a difference,” Lt. Prater said. “That car I’m stopping, it could end up saving a life or preventing a serious injury. All state troopers want the death rate to stay at zero. The majority of our deaths could be prevented if people turned off their phones, obeyed the speed limit and looked twice before entering an intersection.
Prater said he knew a career with the Highway Patrol was in his future when he came aboard on January 5, 1986.
“I worked so hard to get this job, I planned to stay,” Prater said. “I never thought about being here for 35 years but I still enjoy my job and if you enjoy it then it doesn’t feel like work.”
Prater, 59, says he doesn’t know how long he will continue.
“People have told me I’ll know when it’s time and I haven’t come to that,” Lt. Prater said. “I could wake up on Monday and decide it’s time, but it hasn’t happened yet.”
Lt. Prater oversees an area of four counties – Warren, Cannon, DeKalb and Smith counties. He has the help of two sergeants, Sgt. Kevin Ballew and Staff Sgt. Tracy White, who are each on two counties.
“I would put my two sergeants and privates against anyone in the state,” Lt. Prater said.
It’s such a strong crew, Prater says he’s losing officers to promotions. Four soldiers have left in the past six months – one to provide security for the capital, one to provide executive protection for the governor, one for the highway patrol training division and one for the private sector to become a commercial pilot.
“Keeping soldiers on the road became the most difficult aspect of the job,” Lt. Prater said.
Even with 35 years of experience, Lt. Prater continues to have firsts.
“There was a collision involving two tractor-trailers two weeks ago on I-40 near the Alexandria exit that closed the freeway for eight hours,” Prater said. “This was the first time I had seen TDOT repave 305 feet of freeway before reopening the road. That’s how bad it was. It took time and it was a long process, but we took care of it.
Prater started as a highway trooper in Cannon County in 1986. In 1999, he was promoted to sergeant covering the night shift for the Cookeville District which encompassed 16 counties.
In September 2000, Prater was transferred to the position of sergeant in DeKalb and Smith counties where he served until January 2008.
From then on, he served as a sergeant in Warren and Cannon counties until his promotion to lieutenant in June 2016.
Capt. RC Christian said in praising Lt. Prater, “I have known Billy Prater since his early days as a soldier. His reputation is solid and he is genuine. I consider it an honor to work with Billy. Our relationship lasted for years. We stood side by side through many memorable moments, some enjoyable and some very trying. I appreciate the leadership he has shown to his soldiers as well as to the citizens of Warren County. As far as I can tell, it doesn’t slow down at all. His wife Carol might not agree with me on that!