On December 30, 2019, Hendersonville’s senior patrol officer Spencer Bristol was struck by a car while crossing Interstate 65 to pursue a fleeing suspect. He died of his injuries that night, leaving behind his wife, Lauren, and daughter Eloise, who was 3 at the time.
The suspect he was pursuing received only four years in prison, the maximum sentence.
Next week, the Spencer Bristol law will become law, making punishment for causing the death of an officer while evading arrest a Class A felony, punishable by up to 60 years of jail.
Previously, evading arrest was a Class A misdemeanor or a Class E felony if a suspect ran away in a motor vehicle. If the theft created a risk of death or injury to passers-by or law enforcement, it was a class D felony. Class E felony was punishable by at least 30 days in prison. Class D crime was punishable by at least 60 days.
the bill, sponsored by Representative William Lamberth and Senator Ferrell Haile, was passed unanimously by the House and Senate this year.
Lamberth initially tried to execute the bill in 2020, but due to COVID-19 bills with a cost were dropped, he said. the tax note of $ 38,263 is for longer incarceration times.
“It really broke my heart for the family, for our community, for our state that we would lose a hero like that and the perpetrators of this crime would end up serving a little jail time – a few months,” he said. .
Lamberth called Lauren Bristol to ask if it was okay if he named the bill after her husband.
She wrote that it was difficult for her to support the bill at first. She wasn’t sure how she felt about the prison term.
“My husband and the father of our child were gone and no punishment could bring him back,” she wrote in an email.
Lauren Bristol wrote that after much prayer she came to the conclusion that a higher level crime was appropriate as actions such as drunk driving, reckless driving or evading arrest are choices that can lead to death.
She wrote that it was a miracle that no one else was injured or killed on the night of her husband’s death.
“I desperately wanted a different miracle from that night, but I’m really thankful that no one else was physically injured,” she wrote.
Evading arrest appears to be a crime on the rise, particularly in Middle Tennessee, according to Cmdr Hendersonville Police. Scott Ryan.
He said he thinks people have learned that law enforcement officers are busy and therefore cannot be caught if they run away.
“It’s just kind of a risk that they’re willing to take,” he said.
He said increasing the certainty of being caught and the severity of the sentence were two factors that may help crime rates drop.
“We certainly hope this deters the getaway and escape aspect just because of the publicity it has received and knowing that there is a higher consequence,” Ryan said.
Lamberth said he received questions early on about increasing sentences, in some cases from a misdemeanor or an E felony to an A or B felony, but he believed it was justified because of the crime.
“People should just stop and go through the court system and let this system do its job to protect your rights,” Lamberth said.
Law enforcement support
Law enforcement officials have given “huge support” to the bill, Lamberth said.
He added that he believes every community in the state supports their law enforcement. The bill was a way to show that Tennessee is really “back the blue.”
“What I have heard from law enforcement officials is that they appreciate this bill because it reflects the enormous danger they run every day to ensure the safety of all of us.”
Ryan shared a similar sentiment, saying it was a message about how seriously lawmakers take the dangers law enforcement officers face.
“It’s really important to us, to the community and to his family. It’s just a huge sign of support for what we’re doing in law enforcement, ”he said.
Dan Bristol, Spencer’s father, has said his son will be all for what the law has done.
“I think he would be happy to see him because he has definitely obeyed the law, and he certainly wouldn’t want his fellow officers to be in danger when someone runs away from them,” he said.
Lauren Bristol explained that the law meant several things to her personally, with the hope that it would deter breakouts.
“It means justice for future families who may have to bear the burden of life-changing loss or injury. It is the recognition of the first responders who are running towards danger. It is a reminder of the strength of spirit embodied by my husband when he took his last breath. It means peace in the knowledge that another family will never sit in a room to hear the details of the death of a family member, immediately followed by the words “two to four years”. It is a legacy for our daughter that while very bad things can happen, they can also make changes – that there is always room to do better, to be better.
Dan and Lauren Bristol spoke about how Spencer’s death brought the community together.
Lauren Bristol said she couldn’t begin to describe the support the community has given to her and Eloise.
“How lucky are we to live in a community that weeps together, that mobilizes around those who suffer, who support each other? she wrote.
The HPD agents who worked with Spencer Bristol have become like family to his wife and daughter.
“They were substitute father figures for Eloise, they mowed my garden, they lost sleep to help me and Eloise. What used to be friendships has become an almost unbreakable bond, ”she wrote.
Dan Bristol said since his son’s death he has seen Sumner County first responders and law enforcement officers working more closely than ever before.
“It’s absolutely a reality,” Ryan said.
“When something like that hits… you see how large the family of first responders is because everyone wants to be there to help their brother and sister get through this, keep the fight going and keep going. service, ”he said.
Ryan said he received phone calls from agencies across the country offering his help and condolences.
“It gives you the support you need to overcome grief and continue to serve, because Spencer finally gave his life in service, and that’s what he would want from all of us,” he said.
Dan Bristol also said the Tunnels to Towers organization paid off his son’s mortgage after his death. Dan Bristol has pledged to bring together 100,000 new members for the organization, which supports injured and fallen service members and first responders, including paying down mortgages on homes. On October 9, Spencer Bristol’s birthday, Tunnels to Towers is hosting a 5K in Hendersonville to raise money for the organization.
The legacy of Spencer Bristol
The Spencer Bristol Act is far from the only impact the officer has had and continues to have in Hendersonville.
Ryan described Bristol, who worked at HPD for four years, as having a servant’s heart.
“Every aspect of his life seemed to be centered on service to others, whether it was service to his country or service to the community or service to his family and friends,” he said.
Dan Bristol said his son lived opposite Jim Lawson, an HPD officer who died of COVID-19 in April 2020. Spencer Bristol was fascinated by the police, but he actually wanted to be a Navy SEAL.
He served in the Navy from 2007 to 2012 and was deployed to Afghanistan.
Upon his return to Hendersonville, he joined the police department, where he was able to help people, which he loved to do.
Spencer Bristol brought his training as a combat medic to Hendersonville and taught HPD officers combat triage, his father said. Now training is a class for all officers.
“Since it happened, they have already saved several lives using this,” he said.
Dan Bristol said his son has never met a foreigner and people are looking to him.
“If you watch the funeral procession, you just saw literally hundreds of people on the streets. He had people who came from all over the country with whom he served, whom he met in different places, ”he said.
Even people who most people wouldn’t think much of have felt the impact of Spencer Bristol. A McDonald’s employee he saw at the drive-thru showed up for the funeral and a gas station worker told Lauren Bristol her husband would always make sure she felt safe when she was there. alone at night.
Dan Bristol said that even as a child he worked with children with special needs in his karate classes and at Sunday school. Lauren Bristol shared that at her husband’s funeral, her classmates told her they were ‘outcasts’ but that he was kind to them, even when others weren’t.
“This is exactly how I want our daughter to be,” wrote Lauren Bristol.
Spencer Bristol also treated everyone with respect, even the suspects he arrested.
“I was shocked at the number of people who approached me to offer their condolences and who had met Spencer during their arrest,” wrote Lauren Bristol. “I heard time and time again that he treated them with respect and seemed to care.”
Dan Bristol said that after his son’s death, a man he arrested showed up in court and pleaded guilty even though there was no one to press charges.
“The guy Spencer arrested for drug trafficking stood up and said he was going to plead guilty. He said Spencer had changed his life. He just treated him with respect,” Bristol said.
Lauren Bristol said condolences from politicians, musicians and others across the country are an honor, but her husband’s stories of kindness really speak to the person he was and the person she was. wants his daughter to be.
“Spencer was definitely a hero, but what I want people to remember the most is that he was kind and was a friend to almost everyone,” she wrote. .