Trooper served his community well
October 26, 2017
For almost three decades as a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper, Trent Barnes covered the wide expanses of territory by driving thousands of miles. At the end of the day, though, he looked forward to the final stretch that took him home to his adopted hometown.
Compared to many troopers, Barnes' career took him into the rural counties where he spent six years in Lovelock and the rest of the time with the Fallon (now Fallon-Fernley) District before retiring in September.
Barnes always had a civic-minded interest in serving both his nation and state. He joined the Nevada Air National Guard as a security police officer in 1992 for six years – two years active Guard and six years in the Individual Readiness Reserves —later took his oath for the NHP on Jan. 3, 1994, and graduated later that year from the academy with longtime friend Andy McAfee, now a lieutenant working out of the Northern Command. Barnes said McAfee is now the last trooper from their class.
"I'm jealous but happy for him," McAfee said, adding he plans to retire from the NHP within two years. "We were hired on the same date and worked together in Reno as cadets."
While Barnes' path took him to the rurals, McAfee eventually wound up in the Reno-Carson City area. When McAfee was a lieutenant, his travels brought him out to Fallon quite often, so he and Barnes had the opportunity to see each other.
But their professional career went beyond the badge. Both men enjoyed fishing together, and they used bird dogs to teach youth about the Wings and Wetlands program at Stillwater Wildlife refuge. The program introduced youth to the outdoors through many hands-on activities such as birdwatching, photography, outdoor skills, wildlife banding/trapping, waterfowl and upland hunting, habitat management, environmental education and other creative, fun outdoor learning activities.
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BORN INTO LAW ENFOrCEMENT
Barnes is a Nevada native, having been born in Ely where his father served as an NHP trooper to attending elementary and junior high schools in Las Vegas to attending Sparks High School where he graduated in 1990. He was involved in playing baseball and football and was once on a traveling soccer team.
"My dad was stationed throughout Nevada," said Barnes, adding he and father were able to work together in the NHP. "I wanted to get into law enforcement because of my dad, and I was intrigued with bank robberies and intrigued with the FBI."
After attending Mesa State College (now Colorado Mesa University) in Grand Junction, Colo., he returned to Nevada and made his decision to apply to the NHP, graduate from the academy and accept his new assignment in Lovelock on an interdiction team for commercial vehicles. The transition from the civilian sector to law enforcement went smoothly for the 22-yar-old Barnes.
"Hands down, the person who meant the most was my first sergeant, Matt Paszek," Barnes said. "It didn't make any difference what day he was having, he was a true leader. Before you left his office, he had the answers. He would take care of us and help us out."
After Barnes transferred to Fallon in 1990, he felt at home. He was familiar with Churchill County because of the meetings he had to attend at the Fallon office. Both he and fellow trooper Mike Matheson, who later became a captain in the Churchill County Sheriff's Office, became good friends and partners.
"He was great to work with," Barnes said, noting both their families also forged a good relationship.
"Trent is the nicest guy you would ever want to meet," said Matheson, who retired from the NHP in 2013. "What you see is what you get. The best years of law enforcement were with him as my partner. He was always there when we worked swing shift together."
Barnes never regretted his decision to transfer although the other troopers had more seniority than he in the Fallon office. Out of seven troopers, Barnes was sixth in seniority and all but one hailed from Nevada. He said one trooper lived in California before moving to the Silver State.
"We all complemented each other," he recalled. "We all worked together, everyone knew everyone's family, we were always there for each other and we knew the valleys and peaks of each person. "
Matheson concurred, saying the NHP community was close.
"The kids were in school, the spouses worked in the community," Matheson said, who grew up and began working in law enforcement in another rural community, Yerington. "For me, we all had a bond here and all had a stake here."
For Barnes, the camaraderie is something that will last forever. Even when the "old-timers" began to retire and leave the area, the camaraderie remained but the number of new troopers decided to live elsewhere and commute. Now, Barnes said more troopers have decided to work in the area.
DISASTER IN THE DESERT
During his career, Barnes has seen more than his share of wrecks on the state and federal highways leading out of Fallon.
On June 24, 2011, though, Barnes was one of the first troopers on the scene after a 43-year-old truck driver crashed his ore-carrying Peterbilt with two empty dump trailers in an Amtrak passenger train approaching the railroad crossing. The truck slammed into the second dorm car or fourth car back, causing one of the worst train disasters in Churchill County history. Six people including the truck driver died.
"More than 200 people were on that train," Barnes said. "I was amazed how everything (the arrival of first responders) came together and how the counties around us assisted."
Barnes said the subsequent days grew longer and longer during the investigation phase as both state and federal officials pieced together the incident. During the time after the crash, which occurred shortly before noon, Barnes said he was impressed with the available assets that had traveled to the crash site and began evacuating people.
"People who were on the highway opened up their trailers to help," Barnes said.
In a previous LVN article, many responders called it a textbook scenario to rescue passengers and extinguish an inferno that engulfed two railcars.
Barnes also participated in a major first-responder drill on North Taylor Street in which people from local agencies converged on the railroad tracks after a mock chemical spill occurred.
"There is an effort to get more cooperation together," he said of the response.
Although the Amtrak crash stands out the most, Barnes still remembers the first fatal crash to which he responded on Interstate 80.
"It was a single-car rollover that killed a 16-year-old girl," he said. "It was kind of a wake-up call in a certain aspect you know they can happen. I had a training officer with me, and he handled that crash. Later in the day, we had an injury accident, and I realized quickly what a long day could be."
Barnes said reconstructing an accident is a challenge for the investigating trooper. He said it's like putting a puzzle together, trying to discover if the cause was human error or mechanical.
A COMMUNITY MAN
While Barnes may remember the challenges of the job, he will also cherish the times he spent obtaining fans from shoppers during the summer or asking for donations for the senior citizens in Fallon and Fernley in their Cram the Cruiser campaign.
If there was ever a man who loves his community, it was Barnes. He and Matheson attended the annual downtown's Spooktacular on Halloween, handing out information, and every year Barnes and his fellow troopers passed out information at the annual Community Days at Oats Park. During the latter stage of his career, Barnes served as the face of the Fallon-Fernley District as public information officer.
Barnes' community spirit is something that hasn't been lost on Sgt. Dave Cox, who was the sergeant-in-charge in Fallon from 2011-2013 and now oversees the Fallon-Fernley District.
"He's a dying breed, so committed to the community," Cox pointed out. "Everything is for Fallon such as the fan drives. He had a long career, and there will be big shoes to fill because he was so committed."
Barnes isn't going away anytime soon. He became a rodeo dad years ago when his son, Zach, became a bull rider as a junior high school student. Although he never participated in rodeo events, the older Barnes has taken a liking to the sport.
"It's been fun, and I've had a great time meeting new people," Barnes said. "I've made some nice friends."
He attended his first national high school rodeo in July after Zach qualified as a top-four contestant from Nevada. The proud father said his son stayed on for his first ride but was unsuccessful with his second.
McAfee said he's happy Barnes and his son are enjoying rodeo.
"He's a real dedicated father," McAfee said. "He's exposed Zach to as many things as he could."
Barnes also said hunting is big in their family, and he took his stepdaughter, Natasha, hunting, a first time for her. For Barnes and his life as a National Guard airman, trooper and father, nothing has been more important than being involved, whether it's been for his community or family.