Deputy, SRO killed in crash remembered as a leader, 'friendly face' to middle school students

Tom George Image
Thursday, February 8, 2024
Harnett County community mourning loss of deputy killed in crash
Harnett County Sheriff's deputy Chris Johnson died Tuesday afternoon after being involved in a car crash. He also served as an SRO at Highland Middle School.

LILLINGTON, N.C. (WTVD) -- The Harnett County community is coming together to honor Deputy Chris Johnson, the school resource officer who was killed in a 3-car collision Tuesday afternoon.

"You know it's one of those things you never expect to happen and it does but you know up here we're a family," says Sheriff Wayne Coates.

Coates got emotional remembering a member of that family gone too soon.

"He will be missed immensely because I don't think there's anybody out there that can say one word negative about Chris Johnson," Coates says.

Deputy Johnson's legacy in law enforcement spanned decades, from the Sampson County Sheriff's Office to the Dunn Police Department. Then, about a year and a half ago, his longtime friend Sheriff Coates told him about an opportunity to serve as a school resource officer at Highland Middle School. Coates says it was the perfect role for the father of four to make a difference.

"He had raised his children and was still raising them and that was his niche in life, he wanted to be a good leader and mold them in today's society and that's what we need in the schools somebody that they look up to and trust," Coates says.

That journey came to an end on Tuesday. Deputy Johnson was on his way from the school to work security at another school event when the North Carolina Highway Patrol says Deputy Johnson crossed the center line, hitting a semi-truck and creating a 3-car collision. Johnson died at the scene.

Back at Highland Middle School, grief counselors have been on hand to support students who will now have to go back to campus without the friendly face they're used to.

At the Sheriff's Office in Lillington, flags were flown at half-staff, and there is a memorial in Johnson's honor in front of the building.

The sheriff says his department will continue to support the Johnson family; they have a deputy visiting his family home to support him. There has also been a GoFundMe page set up by the community to support Johnson's widow and children in the wake of this tragedy.