Milton former chief killed in crash recalled as humble, inspiring

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Neil Johnson
Friday, July 12, 2013

MILTON--The news of a local tragedy was still sinking in Friday in Milton, where flags flew at half-staff.

Residents were trying to make sense of the death of Terry Hawkins, a former Milton police chief who was killed late Thursday when a semitrailer truck hit his vehicle from behind on Interstate 39/90.

Hawkins was returning alone from a Beloit Snappers baseball game, friends said, and he was caught in a slow-moving traffic backup in the northbound lanes of the Interstate on Janesville's south end.

Emergency crews had shut down part of the Interstate as they cleared a diesel spill after a semitrailer truck earlier had crashed into a guard rail a few miles north. That's when a semitrailer truck heading northbound hit Hawkins' vehicle in the rear, causing a pileup that involved five other cars and injured two other motorists, the Wisconsin State Patrol reported.

The State Patrol's Deforest Post was still investigating the crash Friday for potential “fatigue issues” on the part of the truck driver, the agency reported. 

Hawkins died on the spot, according to reports. He was 61.

Lee Twist, a former sergeant and a police investigator in the Milton Police Department, worked under Hawkins during the former chief's 15-year tenure, which spanned from 1990 to the end of 2004.  

“I couldn't believe it. It boggled my mind,” Twist said. “I'm just saying, in your own mind, it makes you wonder what tomorrow will bring.”

Twist said the city has abruptly lost one of its “best guys.”

“I never heard anything negative come out of his (Hawkins') mouth. He was always a positive man. He could make something, if you will, out of a zero-nothing day. He could make you think it was midnight at noon.” 

Twist rattled off a list of friends, colleagues and people in Milton who respected Hawkins for “both his work and his brains, too.”

The names that Twist dropped were some of Milton's top business leaders and local bankers and ranged from high school athletic coaches to teachers and pastors of local churches.

Twist said people who knew Hawkins knew he was an intelligent down-to-earth man. He never condescended to people—least of all his police department colleagues.

“He was the best supervisor I ever had. If you want to say he was a supervisor, he sure didn't act like a supervisor. He never belittled anybody. I'll always remember, he said, 'Lee, you know what? We put our pants on the same way every morning, so we should work like that.'"

Twist said Hawkins was the kind of cop who would keep a teddy bear in the trunk of his cruiser in case he ever came across a car accident involving a child.

For most of his years as police chief, Hawkins worked a one-day-a-week, secondary gig next door at Milton East Elementary School, reading books to students.

Cindy Johnson-Waterworth, a former second-grade teacher at East Elementary and a close friend to Hawkins, said she treasures memories of the chief arriving in uniform to read students books he'd picked out himself.

“The students would get their milk and crowd around him as close as they could. They'd want to touch him, almost like he was made of gold,” Johnson-Waterworth said.

Johnson-Waterworth said students would give Hawkins, an avid endurance runner and sports fan, sports cards, and Hawkins would break down his handgun to show students how it worked.

She said many students still remembered Hawkins for the time he spent with them. Once, Hawkins told her, he was at a Beloit Snappers game and Snappy, the team's giant turtle mascot, approached Hawkins in the stands.

Snappy, as it turned out, was once a student at Milton. Hawkins had read to him years before, and the mascot wanted to thank the former chief.  

Milton Police Lt. John Conger, who worked under Hawkins for years, said Hawkins was hard-nosed and authoritarian when he had to be, but he was kind to people. And he inspired people.

Conger said Hawkins inspired people around him to care about public service and to care about the welfare of people. Twist said he never knew anyone who had more of a power to motivate others.

“Personality-wise, if you had a skill, Terry would perfect it,” Twist said. “He knew somehow how to perfect what you were doing and make it better. He'd make you better.”

Last updated: 6:30 pm Friday, July 12, 2013

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