In his eventful life, Daniel J. Good served his country in the Vietnam War and later the citizens of the western North Carolina foothills as a state trooper with the Highway Patrol. And for 16 years, he was “The Good Sheriff” of Rutherford County.
“It’s been a long road,” he said to The McDowell News.
Now, the 71-year-old Good was written down his experiences with the military and law enforcement in a new memoir titled “The Good Sheriff.” This is his first book.
“Hopefully, it won’t be the last because I kind of like it,” he said.
Good grew up in the Turkey Cove/North Cove area of McDowell and graduated from North Cove High School in 1967.
As a young man, he enlisted into the U.S. Marine Corps and went through boot camp at Parris Island, S.C. In no time, he and the other Marines were headed for combat duty in the Vietnam War.
During the war, he survived helicopter crashes, ambushes from the enemy and a tiger attack.
“That’s after the rigors of boot camp,” he said. “The book talks about some harrowing situations.”
After he came home, Good started working as a state trooper with the N.C. Highway Patrol in Madison County. Early in his career as a state trooper, he once stopped a car along the highway because the driver had two Holstein calves in the back seat.
“We charged him with cattle rustling,” said Good. “It was still on the books.”
Nationally known radio broadcaster Paul Harvey used this episode in one of his programs, he added.
But probably the darkest and most tragic incident in his career as a state trooper happened in late May 1979. At that time, he was working in Rutherford County.
There, a man named James Hutchins started assaulting his teen-age daughter and when other members of the family tried to protect her, he got violent when them too. When authorities arrived to confront him, he ambushed and killed two deputies in a period of 15 minutes. They were Deputy Millard Owen Messersmith and Capt. Roy Huskey.
Good and his buddy Trooper Robert L. “Pete” Peterson were working the same shift on May 31, 1979. Good was working the southern end of Rutherford and Peterson was working the northern end. They always enjoyed a cup of coffee at 4 p.m. at a restaurant in Forest City. In addition to being state troopers, they shared another common bond of being veterans of the Vietnam War.
The two state troopers agreed to meet back at that restaurant at around 10 p.m. for their last cup of coffee before the shift ended.
“It was the last time I would ever see my friend again,” said Good. “The next time I saw him was when I finally got to his car after he had been shot by James Hutchins, but my friend was no longer alive.”
Peterson was dead and Hutchins was still on the run. Good and hundreds of other state, federal and local law enforcement officers worked tirelessly to find the killer in one of the biggest manhunts in state history. Their efforts were successful when Hutchins was arrested the next morning. Good was the man who brought this murderer out of the woods and into the backseat of a patrol car.
“After we had Pete’s killer in custody, it was hard for me not to avenge my friend’s death by taking Hutchins’ life, but my cooler head told me that I was not the judge nor the jury,” he said to The McDowell News.
Four years later, James Hutchins became the first inmate in North Carolina history to be executed by lethal injection. This incident would be described in the book “Trooper Down.” Even though justice had been done, Good was never the same after that. After all, he had lost his best buddy in the patrol.
“I was never again the enthusiastic trooper I had been, which led to my changing law enforcement jobs in 1981,” he said to The McDowell News.
Good worked as a N.C. parole officer and in 1990, he was elected sheriff of Rutherford County. He ran as a Republican but at that time Rutherford’s political structure was dominated by Democrats. He won the election in 1990 by only 32 votes. After a recount was done, he gain an extra vote and won by 33.
When he took over, Good was faced with a department in bad need of an overhaul.
“The Rutherford County Sheriff's Department when I was first elected in 1990 was in complete disarray,” he said. “I knew I had to put the department back together with some good men beside of me whom I trusted 100%. We got it on the upward trend to being a professional law enforcement agency. I served for 1990 to 2006 so we must have done something right.”
While serving as sheriff, U.S. Sen. Jesse Helms gave Good three helicopters that were used in the Vietnam War and were about to be junked. Good was able to take the parts of two to make one good working helicopter that was used to search for missing people, find criminals, and to discover marijuana plants.
Along with the loss of his friend Trooper Pete Peterson, Good had to endure the loss of two of his daughters. First, his daughter Angie Good Sheehan passed away from a very rare vascular disease. His other daughter Catherine Good Jolley passed away from an overdose of prescription medicines. Both were in their mid-20s and they died seven years apart.
Not surprisingly, he suffers from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) due to his time in the Vietnam War, the tragic losses in his life and his years of law enforcement. But he has learned to rely on a greater power to guide him.
“God told me a long time ago He was in charge,” said Good. “From the things I’ve experienced, I know He is right. I am more at peace after losing my girls than ever before. It took a long while for God to teach me lessons. I thought I knew it all, but I didn’t. He taught me whenever there’s a storm in your life, if you have a strong belief system in Him, that storm is not going to bother you; if you don’t, the storm will eat you up.
“My faith is why I made it through the storms. After always being able to emerge from the depths, there was a time when I wondered if I ever would again. The Good Lord gave me strength by showing me a falling star.”
These experiences and the life lessons he has learned from them are all written down in his memoir “The Good Sheriff.” The book is available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The official publication date was Sunday, March 15. It retails for $14.95. It is traditionally published by Beth S. Wilson of Hear My Heart Publishing in Oklahoma.
He would like to write another book about the changes in law enforcement he has witnessed over the years.
Good told The McDowell News he wants to someday hold a book-signing event in Marion. He still considers McDowell County as his home.
“All of my people are from here,” he said.