Trooper Robert L. "Pete" Peterson

Trooper Robert L. "Pete" Peterson

North Carolina Highway Patrol, North Carolina

End of Watch Thursday, May 31, 1979

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Robert L. "Pete" Peterson

Trooper Robert Peterson, Deputy Sheriff Millard Messersmith, and Captain Roy Huskey were shot and killed after responding to a domestic dispute between a man and his teenager daughter in Rutherford County.

Captain Huskey was the first officer dispatched to the scene and was shot in the head by the suspect as he exited his patrol car. When Captain Huskey failed to check in Deputy Messersmith responded to the scene. As he pulled into the driveway he saw Captain Huskey laying next to the patrol car, and he began to back out of the driveway.

The suspect opened fire on Deputy Messersmith as he backed out of the driveway, striking him in the head. A neighbor called the sheriff's office to report that two deputies had been shot. Trooper Peterson heard garbled radio traffic, and although couldn't make out the transmissions, determined something was wrong and began to head toward Rutherfordton. As he drove into town the suspect sped by him.

Trooper Peterson turned around and attempted to stop the car, thinking it was a speeding vehicle and not knowing the suspect had just murdered two deputies. Trooper Peterson's last transmission was that the suspect was running into the woods. Trooper Peterson was found suffering a from a gunshot wound to the head. His service revolver had been fired once. The suspect was apprehended, convicted of capital murder, and executed in 1984.

Trooper Peterson was a U.S. Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War. He had served with the North Carolina Highway Patrol for nine years. He was survived by his sister.

In 2016, the North Carolina State Highway Patrol named the physical training field and running track at the agency's training center in Raleigh as "Peterson Field" in honor of Trooper Peterson's legacy as the agency's most famous physical training instructor and in honor of his service. The North Carolina Department of Transportation also dedicated a portion of U.S. 221 in Rutherford County in honor of Trooper Peterson.


  • Age 37
  • Tour 9 years
  • Badge G-235
  • Military Veteran

Incident Details

  • Cause Gunfire
  • Weapon Rifle; .30-.06
  • Offender Executed in 1984


Most Recent Reflection

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Today retired NC Superior Court Judge Richard Boner posted the following on his Facebook page in honor of this fine trooper and I thought it was more than worthy to share:

I have long had tremendous respect for the troopers of the North Carolina Highway Patrol. During my three years of law school (1972-75), I worked at the UNC Institute of Government in Chapel Hill, and I became well acquainted with the staff of the patrol school which was then located at the Institute. One of the staff members was Trooper Robert L. “Pete” Peterson who was the physical training instructor. I lived in a room at the Institute my last two years of school. Pete, who was divorced, lived in a room at the other end of my hall. We were friends. I used to tell Pete I would make him commander of the patrol if I ever became governor. He always responded, “I don’t want nothing to do with any politicians”. Pete left the patrol school to go back on the road after I graduated from law school and began practicing law in Charlotte. On May 31, 1979, Pete was killed in the line of duty in Rutherford County by a man who also killed two deputy sheriffs that same day. I have never forgotten what I was doing when my brother called me with the news of Pete’s death. I cried after hanging up the phone. Two days later I attended Pete’s funeral in a little Baptist Church in Swannanoa. Those several days remain forever etched in my memory. God bless and watch over the men and women of the Silver and Black- The N.C. Highway Patrol.

Major Mike Smathers
Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department

October 19, 2018

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