One of Sampson County’s own is staying home to continue his law enforcement career, while maintaining a family tradition steeped in N.C. Highway Patrol service.
On Friday, Trooper Louis M. “Matt” High Jr. graduated from the 137th Basic N.C. Highway Patrol School, one of 19 State Highway Patrol cadets who endured 15 weeks of what Colonel Bill Grey called the toughest law enforcement training in the country.
The graduation ceremony was held in Cary following which High and 18 others were officially introduced as the newest troopers charged with serving and protecting North Carolina’s residents and the highways upon which they travel. High has been assigned to Troop B, District 2, in Sampson County and will begin his new duties on Sept. 30.
His assignment with the Highway Patrol in Sampson carries on a rich family tradition.
“It’s always been a dream of mine, something I wanted to do. I just always wanted to be a Highway Patrolman,” High said this week following his graduation. “I’m looking forward to coming back to Sampson County and working there, just like (my father) did.”
The new trooper is the son of Louis and Emily High of Dunn, previously of Smithfield. Louis Sr., now a sergeant of court security for the Sampson Sheriff’s Office, had a decorated career as a N.C. Highway patrolman, serving as first sergeant for Troop B-2 at the tail end of a 24-year career with the Highway Patrol.
Before going to Highway Patrol School, High Jr. served with the Clinton Police Department for three years, before moving on to the Sampson County Sheriff’s Office for the next two years. It was just a matter of time before he progressed to HP.
“I grew up around the Highway Patrol my whole life,” said High. “That’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”
Understandably so, as he has seen several family members serve the NCHP, even his grandmother.
Matt’s grandma Jean (Louis Sr.’s mother) was a secretary at the Highway Patrol offices in Johnston County for years. His father, after starting his career with the Smithfield Police Department in 1979, joined the Highway Patrol in May 1984. He came to Sampson as a sergeant 10 years later, leaving upon a promotion to first sergeant in 1999 only to return as Sampson’s first sergeant in 2004.
He stayed there until his retirement from the HP in 2008, the same year his son Matt graduated from Midway High School.
Matt’s brother Thomas High has also been a trooper with the Highway Patrol for about three years, currently serving on the Troop B DWI Task Force where he enforces DWI laws in Cumberland, Robeson, Columbus, Pender and New Hanover counties.
High said it is difficult to put into words, but he just knows Highway Patrol is where he belongs.
“I’ve always wanted to do it,” said High. “I enjoy working traffic. I guess growing up around Highway Patrol is really what drew me to it.”
High grew up in the Plain View area. After he graduated from Midway High, he went on to Methodist, where he played football, before getting his BLET at Sampson Community College.
During Friday’s graduation ceremony, Grey recognized those families who supported and sacrificed along with the cadets for 15 weeks. Grey told the cadets to keep those family members close, “and always remember the toughest part is not being a state trooper — the toughest part is waiting on you to come home safely.
“It goes without saying that as a state trooper you will face many challenges and dangers that will test your courage,” Grey continued. “As we all know and see almost daily, the world can be a very dangerous place where bad things happen. Being a state trooper will require that you have the courage to run towards danger while others are running away; the courage to risk your own life to protect others and the courage to always stand up and do what’s right; whether its popular or not.”
Running toward danger is nothing new to High, who has two children, daughter Lilianna, 3, and son Braxton, 1, with wife Megan.
In April, he chased down and subsequently confronted a gunman who moments earlier committed an armed robbery at a convenience store in Garland. After leading law enforcement on a high-speed chase that extended to N.C. 242 near Salemburg, the gunman exited his vehicle and approached High and a fellow sergeant, armed with a shotgun.
High was forced to act, a shooting incident that resulted in the death of the gunman.
The District Attorney’s Office ruled the shooting was justified as High “perceived an apparent threat, evaluated the situation in split seconds, made a decision and acted.”
When asked about the dangers that come with the job, High simply said he is fortunate to have the training he does from the local agencies for which he’s been blessed to work.
“With the five years I’ve got, I feel I’m ahead of the game,” High remarked. “I feel pretty experienced and I have some awesome training I’ve been really fortunate to get. The Highway Patrol, the Sheriff’s Office and the Police Department have all given me great training and will help me as I continue on my law enforcement career.”
The most recent of that training was 15 intense weeks at the 137th Basic Highway Patrol School.
On that day, First Sgt. M.S. Whaley, the patrol school’s commandant, stood in front of 29 students who reported to the campus to become North Carolina state troopers. Of them, “19 lived up to the challenge of entrusting us with their time and energy to make the mark,” Whaley said to the nearly 600 in attendance at Friday’s ceremony.
“You reported on your first day of this journey with much anxiety and uncertainty, yet with a clear charge and expectation of excellence,” Whaley said to High and 18 others. “Although each of you came here with distinct individuality, you have truly grown into a family with a mission greater than yourself: The duty and the ability to serve your fellow man. Be confident and proud that you are joining a family and a team that is filled with some of the finest and most courageous people in the world.”
“Be confident,” Grey added, ” in the fact that you are the best trained, best prepared, law enforcement officers in the country.”
He quoted the Irish statesman, Edmund Burke, who stated the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.
“However, I do not worry about evil prevailing,” Grey pointed out, “because it is the good men and women of this world, like those that serve on the North Carolina Highway Patrol, who hold evil at bay and keep our citizens safe.”
Louis Sr. was one of the many who beamed with pride from the audience.
“I am very proud of him,” Louis Sr. said. “He is a great public servant and will be a great asset to Sampson County and the citizens he serves. Matt is always willing to go the extra mile. He is a man of few words, a humble man. His actions and good deeds have always spoken, and will continue to speak, for his character now and in the future.”
The N.C. Department of Public Safety contributed to this story. Reach staff writer Chris Berendt at 910-249-4616. Follow the paper on twitter @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.