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Knott takes policing seriously

September 21, 1997

By BRENDAN KIRBY

Staff Writer

Lt. Donnie Knott knows the image his name conjures - even though he goes by Donnie, not Don.

The name's resemblance to comedian Don Knotts is unmistakable.

"I've heard them all," said Knott, who took over Sept. 10 as commander of the Hagerstown barracks of the Maryland State Police.

But Knott takes it in stride. He even has a greeting card with Knotts in his role on the "Andy Griffith Show" on his shelf.

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"It's kind of my favorite show, so I can respond," he said.

Kidding aside, though, Knott said he takes his job seriously. Drawn to law enforcement at an early age while growing up in Allegany County, Md., he said he never seriously considered another career.

In Hagerstown, Knott, 42, takes command of a barracks with 44 troopers that has undergone a rash of changes in leadership during the last couple of weeks. Formerly the assistant commander in the Forestville, Md., barracks, Knott was transferred when the former Hagerstown commander was promoted.

In addition, Detective Sgt. Mike Hegedus became first sergeant. William Lucas, who previously held the position, moved to the Waterloo barracks, where the elite special forces unit has been centralized.

Hegedus's job is being filled by Sgt. Rob Tarano, who was a member of the state police auto theft unit.

Knott's preparation for his new post has been a varied law enforcement career that has taken him across the state and around the world.

As a rookie trooper, Knott patroled high-crime areas in Prince George's County. For 13 years, he said he was a member of the executive protection unit, serving three governors in Maryland's version of the Secret Service.

In between, he has made hundreds of traffic stops patroling the state's major roads.

But Knott's career - and his life - nearly ended after it barely began.

As a 24-year-old trooper attached to the Forestville, Md., barracks, Knott said he was critically shot in the high-crime Suitland area of Prince George's County in 1979.

On the job for about three years, Knott said he was training a trooper fresh out of the police academy when the pair was sent to a shopping center to investigate an alarm. When they arrived, he said he and his partner saw a man who was bleeding profusely.

While his partner administered first aid, Knott said he went to radio for an ambulance. When he returned, he saw the trooper and the man struggling. By the time he reached them, the man, who was high on drugs, had managed to wrestle the rookie trooper's gun away.

"He shot me first, then he shot the new trooper and then a third trooper who had arrived on the scene," Knott said.

The third officer returned fire and killed the man, Knott said. Three wounded troopers, meanwhile, laid on the ground.

Knott, who had been shot at point-blank range, was the worst hurt. He said his spleen and a kidney were removed and he remained in the hospital for 14 days - seven of them in critical condition.

"I knew I was hurt seriously ... A lot of things go through your mind very quickly," he said. "There was a time when I thought the worst was going to happen."

Knott said he got married shortly after the shooting, but if there has been any lasting impact, he does not show it.

"It hasn't really affected me," he said.

Knott changed assignments in 1983, becoming a member of the state police unit that travels with the governor.

He said he helped provide security during trips in nearly every state and major U.S. city and accompanied former governor William Donald Schaefer on visits to the Far East.

Knott said he also spent several years earlier in his career as an accident reconstructionist, re-creating every detail of a crash at wreck scenes. The experience left him a big believer in seatbelts.

He said he wants to target motorists who fail to wear safety belts, especially next month when a new law takes effect giving police expanded authority to pull over offenders.

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