HAWKINS COUNTY, Tenn. - A local sheriff's deputy that is used to serving and protecting is on the other end of the helping hand after his home burned to the ground.
"My job is to protect people. So this is different for me," said Sam Wilhoit, a Hawkins County Sheriff's Deputy. He had just started his shift around 6 p.m. on Monday when he got a call from a family member who lives down the street. "He smelled the smoke and walked down and seen the flames."
Crews believe the fire started in an electrical panel box outside of the master bedroom.
By the time Wilhoit got home, the house was a complete loss. "My wife's wedding dress, all of our family keepsakes: all gone," he said.
"All Sam and his family had was the clothes on their backs. They lost everything," said Sheriff Ronnie Lawson.
Wilhoit and his family had been renting the mobile home on Oakwood Road for about 10 years and they didn't have insurance. The total loss is an estimated $30,000.
But Wilhoit said the loss could have been much worse. "My wife actually had to work late, which is fortunate because otherwise she would have been home. And my son was at my father-in-laws," he said. "It could have been my family in there. And then I would have lost more than just stuff."
Now, Wilhoit, his wife and four-year old son are working to pick up the pieces and move forward. "We're trying to find a place to go. With no insurance and no money, it's hard to start that direction," he said.
But Sheriff Lawson said the community quickly rallied around the family. "Sam is an excellent employee and he works hard and cares about people. I got to see a huge response for a fellow officer from the community," he said. "This is a close knit bunch. When people need help, people step up."
Donations have already started coming in from bags of clothes and toys to checks. Showing this officer how much his community appreciates what he does to help them every day. ""We're a chosen breed, the military, fire, and police. We go to the end. And now, to have the public reach out to us, the way we do for them, means a lot," Wilhoit said.
Lawson said any assistance will be accepted at the Hawkins County Sheriff's Office at:
Attention: Sam Wilhoit
117 Justice Center Drive
Rogersville, TN 37857
Checks must be made out to Sam Wilhoit. Gift cards to businesses as Wal-Mart, Target and Grocery Stores will also be beneficial.
As far as clothing, they need:
Men's pants size 36 x 34, XXL shirts, and size 13 shoes
Women's pants size 5-6, small shirts, and size 6-6 ½ shoes
Children's clothing size 5T and size 11 shoes
Wilhoit has been a deputy with the Hawkins County Sheriff's Department since May 2010.