To some, they may be just a pair of boots. But to Agent Darren Adams, they represent a day that shook him to the core.
The pair of boots has remain untouched since the end of the agent’s 20-hour shift on May 30, 2018. It’s the day Adams and fellow law enforcement officer Nathaniel Proctor found the body of Dickson County Sgt. Daniel Baker.
It started out like any other day. Adams and Proctor, both members of the 23rd Judicial Drug Task Force, were sitting on I-40 near mile marker 176 in Dickson County. They heard concerning radio chatter and decided to help out.
Soon, the investigators were on their way to Bear Creek Valley unsure of the severity of the situation.
“I just figured they couldn’t reach him on the radio,” Agent Adams said.
Both Proctor and Adams jumped out of their cars, grabbed their rifles and followed tire tracks through tall grass until they came across a marked patrol unit bearing the number 500 along the tree line near a fence.
Approaching the car, they noted lots of smoke – what Adams figured was just smoke from the airbags. But the doors of the patrol car were locked, and the heavy smoke kept them from seeing inside.
“I couldn’t clear the vehicle. Obviously, no one knew where Sgt. Baker was,” Proctor remembered
After spotting a streak of blood, Proctor asked for permission to break into the vehicle, which was granted. Proctor busted the driver’s side window out of the car, as smoke billowed out of the car. Agent Adams saw Sgt. Baker’s burned vest, and they realized: “He had been set on fire.”
The officers managed to open the back door of the vehicle.
“That’s when we saw Daniel,” Adams said.
Adams told the courtroom Tuesday that Sgt. Baker’s body was upside down with his head in the floorboard. He went into rescue mode, saying there was a lot of trauma and a lot of blood present.
“That’s when I saw his head. I knew there was absolutely nothing that could be done,” Adams said through tears.
Proctor testified that it looked like Sgt. Baker had been burned from his under arm area to his waist. He watched for a rise and fall in breath and couldn’t find it.
With high emotion, Proctor said all he could think about in the moment was Sgt. Baker’s 22-month-old daughter Meredith.
“As a father, I thought about his little girl,” he shared.
Once other crews arrived, Proctor and Adams started in the manhunt for a suspect.
As the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation processed the scene, Adams says he stayed at the patrol unit.
“I didn’t want to leave him alone,” Adams said with tears welling up in his eyes. “I stayed until the end.”
After the long, taxing, 20-hour day, Adams went home and kicked his boots off. As a way to never forget Sgt. Baker, he kept them in the same place, uncleaned.
He showed up to the murder trial for Sgt. Baker’s accused killer Steven Wiggins wearing those same boots.
“I’m wearing them today with the same blood, sweat and tears,” Adams said.
Authorities say Wiggins shot Sgt. Baker within close range, stole his patrol unit and impersonated him before burning his body. Prosecutors for the state are seeking the death penalty in the case. The defense insists questions remain to whether or not the alleged killing was premeditated.