Thursday morning, Derek Thomas Jensen left his home in Oxford and traveled on the Veterans Memorial Parkway in east Anniston en route to the Center for Domestic Preparedness in McClellan.
Friends and colleagues said it was the way the 37-year-old avid cyclist — who had experience riding the mountains of Utah and Colorado — preferred to get to work, as the director of external affairs at the CDP.
But Jensen didn’t reach the CDP. He was struck and killed by a truck on Golden Springs Road around 6:30 a.m. Thursday, police said. Calhoun County Coroner Pat Brown pronounced Jensen dead at the scene at 7:20 a.m.
Anniston police Sgt. Scott Grissom said Jensen was struck by a truck driven by Ethan Norton, 22, of Heflin. Grissom said Norton was interviewed at the scene and told police he was driving his burgundy 2001 Chevrolet Silverado on the inner northbound lane on Golden Springs Road and struck Jensen while merging into the outside lane.
The accident is still under investigation, Grissom said.
News of Jensen’s death spread quickly through Calhoun County, the Homeland Security community and those who knew him in both his professional and personal life. In an email sent to The Star, FEMA administrator Craig Fugate expressed his sadness at hearing the news.
“Derek’s dedication to service was evident and his devotion to family was clear to all who knew him,” Fugate said. “This is a tragic loss and our hearts and prayers go out to his family. He represented the best in all of us: a commitment to his community and to making the United States a safer place to live. He will be truly missed.”
Randy Cooper, manager of Utah’s chemical stockpile preparedness program, said he heard about Jensen’s accident from colleagues in Washington, D.C.
“He was a very conscientious, very safe young man, one of those young men who are driven to succeed,” Cooper said. “He had accomplished so much at 37, and had so much potential to do more.”
Cooper first met Jensen when Jensen left his job as a reporter at The Deseret News in Salt Lake City to work as a spokesman for Utah’s Department of Homeland Security.
“He was looking for a workplace that provided a more stable environment for his family,” Cooper said.
Cooper and Jensen were neighbors for three years, and even then Jensen was a biker, Cooper said. Jensen later moved to a FEMA office in Denver, where he biked to work daily, Cooper said.
Cooper said Jensen “found his niche” as a Homeland Security spokesman, rising quickly through the ranks to become a spokesman for a major agency, the CDP.
But it wasn’t the first time he found a job he had a knack for. Retired Deseret News city editor Angie Hutchinson said Jensen was one of the “good guys” in her newsroom, covering, among other things, the 2002 kidnapping of Elizabeth Smart.
“A great reporter and a great person,” she said, describing Jensen. “He was always upbeat even though he was covering crime and courts.”
Former CDP spokeswoman Kathy Wood said Jensen took the CDP job in Anniston so his wife could be closer to her family in Tennessee. It was exemplary of Jensen, she said, as a man who put his wife and three children above all else.
“He talked to me all the time about skiing and I said you’re such an avid skier, there’s nothing here compared to what you had out there in Colorado and he just laughed,” Wood said.
Late Thursday afternoon, members of the Northeast Alabama Bicycle Association had discussed preliminary plans for a memorial bike ride in Jensen’s honor.
Staff writer Paige Rentz and Assistant Metro Editor Tim Lockette contributed reporting for this story.
Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.