Remembering A South Carolina Trooper Killed In 1992Rickey Stokes
Posted by: RStokes
Date: Nov 21 2021 11:42 PM
South Carolina Highway Patrol Trooper First Class Mark Hunter Coates
EOW: November 20, 1992
Mark Hunter Coates was born on December 7, 1961 to Dave and Beverly Coates in Irmo, S.C. He graduated from Irmo High School in 1980, where he played on the football team. Mark joined the United States Marine Corps, following high school. After receiving an honorable discharge, Mark became an Emergency Medical Technician and Paramedic for Lexington County. Mark had two sons, by a previous marriage and two stepdaughters that his wife, Lualice brought into their marriage.
In August of 1987, Mark joined the South Carolina Highway Patrol. Trooper Coates was first assigned to Greenwood County and later transferred to Newberry County. In July of 1991, he was selected to join the newly created Aggressive Criminal Enforcement (ACE) Team. While on the ACE Team, Trooper Coates made 77 drug arrests, captured 8 fugitives and seized $225,000 in cash, 6 pounds of cocaine, 4 pounds of marijuana and 5 vehicles. He also recovered 3 stolen vehicles.
Fourteen of the ACE Team members had been working Jasper County for several days. Members of the Governor’s Raid (Retaliation Against Illegal Drugs) Team, comprised of Troopers, Game Wardens, Alcohol Beverage Control Agents and SC Law Enforcement Division Agents were also working in Jasper County.
On Friday evening, November 20th, 1992, a number of the officers met for supper, before going out to work. Trooper Coates left the restaurant at about 7 o’clock to begin his shift. It was the fifth anniversary of his graduation from Patrol School.
At a little after eight o’clock, Trooper Coates stopped a 1967 Mustang in the northbound lane of I-95, near mile marker 7. The driver, thirty two year old Richard Blackburn was polite and cooperative as the Trooper explained the warning ticket. Blackburn seemed relieved when he learned that the warning would not go against his driver’s license. Blackburn’s demeanor changed when Trooper Coates asked about searching the Mustang. As Trooper Coates asked Blackburn to take his left hand out of his pocket, the 300 pound Blackburn attacked the Trooper knocking him to the ground. Blackburn had pulled a .22 magnum “Mini-Revolver” from his pocket and stood over Trooper Coates, as Coates attempted to deescalate the situation. A struggle ensued and Blackburn shot Trooper Coates twice, but the bullets were stopped by his body armor. Trooper Coates drew his issued Smith & Wesson .357 magnum and shot Blackburn in the abdomen, while they were still on the ground. After Trooper Coates stood up, he fired his remaining rounds at Blackburn, striking him 5 times out of the 6 shots. Trooper Coates backed up, creating distance from the still armed Blackburn as he called Ridgeland dispatch for assistance on his portable radio. As, Trooper Coates moved in front of the Mustang, to place it between himself and Blackburn, Blackburn fired again. The .22 magnum bullet struck Trooper Coates in his left arm, an area not protected by his body armor, and travelled through his chest. He continued to call on the radio until he collapsed on the other side of the Mustang. Blackburn crawled forward towards his car, with his gun pointed where he’d last seen the Trooper, yelling, “I’ll kill you…I’ll kill you!” Two truckers had seen the scuffle while driving by and stopped to help the Trooper, but by the time they got there it was too late. Additional Troopers and officers began arriving within minutes and attempted to render aid to Trooper Coates and secure the seen. Trooper Coates was airlifted to Savannah’s Memorial Medical Center, but his wounds were not survivable.
Blackburn was also transported to Savannah, where he underwent surgery for his injuries. It appeared that his large belly protected his vital organs from Trooper Coates’ bullets. Georgia and South Carolina Troopers guarded Blackburn until he was released from the hospital and charged with the murder of Trooper Coates. Trooper Coates’ instincts were correct, as marijuana and cash were found in Blackburn’s Mustang.
Trooper Mark H. Coates was buried on Monday, November 23rd at Chapin Baptist Church. A horse drawn caisson, escorted by SC State Troopers carried the flag draped casket to the cemetery behind the church. He was survived by his mother and father, wife, two sons and two daughters.
The murder trial began on Monday, September 13th, 1993 in Jasper County and on Friday Richard Blackburn was found guilty of the murder of Trooper Mark Coates. The jury returned for the penalty phase of the trial on Saturday, as Solicitor Randolph Murdaugh sought the death penalty. The jury could not agree on the death penalty, so Blackburn was sentenced to life in prison. He would be eligible for parole in 30 years.
The deadly confrontation between Trooper Mark Coates and Richard Blackburn was video-taped by the Trooper’s in car camera. That video has been used in the training of thousands of law enforcement officers across the country.
The legacy of Trooper Mark Coates lives on through his family and friends and the entire law enforcement community. The impact of the video in training has saved countless officers. The SC Highway Patrol received funding to arm Troopers with semi-automatic pistols. He was memorialized with the dedication of a portion of I-95 as “Trooper First Class Mark H. Coates Memorial Highway”. His mother and his wife became heavily involved in the Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS) and the SC Law Enforcement Assistance Program (SCLEAP) where they have been instrumental in the emotional survival of hundreds of law enforcement officers and their families, following critical incidents. Other Troopers remember Mark Coates through the stories they tell about him. Some even memorialized him with tattoos.
South Carolina State Trooper First Class Mark H. Coates was inducted into the South Carolina Law Enforcement Officers Hall of Fame in 1993, never to be forgotten.