Truckers help Oklahoma police stop speeding suspect

| 8/20/2004

Two truck drivers helped Oklahoma police officers capture a suspect and end a high-speed chase that had endangered other drivers on the Oklahoma Turnpike.

However, the two truckers who lent a hand didn’t stick around to take a bow – or even receive a thank you from grateful officers.

The chase began about 1:13 p.m. on July 25, when the suspect, who police would not name, sped away from a crime scene in Tulsa and was pursued by the Tulsa Police, Capt. Jeff Gilliland of Sapulpa Police Department Patrol Division told Land Line.

The suspect’s car turned onto the Oklahoma Turnpike, and the chase eventually exceeded 100 mph, Gilliland said. A film of the chase, taken by a police dashboard camera and shown by a local television station, showed the suspect’s vehicle weaving in and out of traffic as it sped ahead of police cars, at one point appearing to push an SUV off the road.

“He was flying,” Gilliland said. “The turnpike’s got a 70 mph speed limit … and he was passing people like they were setting still.”

Gilliland said his department took over the pursuit from that city’s police department when the suspect’s car moved into their jurisdiction. Sapulpa is a small town just outside of Tulsa.

As the chase continued Gilliland said, the suspect threw entire cases of beer out the window of his vehicle in what appeared to be an attempt to hit the pursuing police vehicles. Police said he also appeared to make deliberate attempts to hit other vehicles on the highway as he fled.

Police were not aware that the two truckers planned to lend a hand until they saw the first truck. Officers had not contacted the 18-wheelers for aid. Gilliland said he assumes the two westbound truckers were alerted to the situation by eastbound truckers who broadcast the information by CB radio.

“That’s the only way we know of they could have made their little plan,” Gilliland said.

The truckers’ actions were clearly planned, and planned well, the officer said.

The trucks had slowed to below the speed limit, and the truck in back began to swerve from side to side, apparently attempting to slow the fleeing vehicle. Then the trucks reached a spot in the highway with guardrails on both sides and a steep embankment on the shoulder – a spot where they could trap the pickup behind the rigs and the driver would have no room to go around.

“It was almost as if they picked the best spot,” Gilliland said. “A mile either way there was no better spot to do what they did, with the guard rails on both sides. They picked the ideal spot; these guys were on the ball. I can’t say enough good about them.”

As they continued to try to force the suspect in the pickup to slow down, the two truckers maneuvered their rigs side by side, one in each westbound lane of the interstate. The pickup moved toward the left to get around one truck, which then moved to block the shoulder as well as the left lane. Then the pickup lurched toward the right, heading toward the shoulder.

As it moved between the second semi and the right-hand guardrail, the trucker moved to the right, using the trailer to pin the pickup against the rail.

Gilliland said the suspect fled, jumping out the right window of his pickup and sliding 15 to 20 feet down the sheer drop on the side of the road. When he hit the bottom, he ran into a wooded area.

Police immediately set up a perimeter, Gilliland said, to prevent his escape. K-9 unit dogs were called in, and those officers left on the road kept watch to make sure the suspect did not double back onto the highway.

“The guys up on the roadway were more interested in watching the turnpike to make sure the guy didn’t come back out of the woods and cross the turnpike,” he said. “They had their hands full out there, especially with the officers that were available at the time. … we’ve a small municipality.”

While the officers pursued and then arrested the suspect, the two truckers left, never having told police who they were.

“We wish the truck drivers would have stuck around, but they took off before the officers could get their names, because we would like to send our thanks to them,” Gilliland said. “If they would contact me, I would like to voice my own appreciation. I would really like to give them a commendation of some kind.

“There’s been a lot of instances in the 25 years I’ve worked here that we’ve worked together (truckers and the police), and it’s a good deal. There’s a lot of good truckers out there. We like giving guys pats on the back, and these guys definitely deserve a pat on the back.”

The police were not able to release the suspect’s name because of privacy laws.

--by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor