Durant (Okla.) Daily Democrat, Wednesday, May 31, 1978

Trooper-Pilot Sees Fugitives' Final Minutes

(EDITORS NOTE: Following is an interview by a Daily Ardmoreite reporter with Lt. Lloyd Basinger, with trooper Dave Blackburn as observer, followed Claude Dennis and Michael Lancaster to their last stand in Caddo).

CADDO - Trooper Lloyd Basinger had a unique vantage point here Friday morning of a gun battle that left two escapees and a Highway Patrol trooper dead, and another trooper wounded.

Basinger was piloting a patrol airplane and directing ground units as they closed in on a blue Ford pickup speeding through the narrow tree-lined residential streets of this small Bryan county community.

From Basinger's overhead vantage point, he saw the flash of muzzle fire from the shots that killed Lt. Pat Grimes.

In a telephone interview, Basinger said Grimes was killed before the car in which he was riding ever stopped rolling.

Driver of the unmarked car, Lt. Hoyt Hughes, was wounded but managed to get the car out of the line of gunfire.

Events leading up to the final gun battle began, Basinger said, when rancher Russell Washington notified authorities that Oklahoma State Penitentiary escapees Claude Dennis and Michael Lancaster had stolen his pickup and left him tied up. Washington managed to get himself untied within minutes and turn in the alarm.

Basinger said he was seven or eight miles away when he received word by radio from the OHP command post set up at old Fort Washita.

In three or four minutes he was on the scene.

"Just about the time I hit the highway I received a message that a trooper had been hit," Basinger said. Command post "wasn't real clear on his exact position," however, and Basinger began circling looking for a black-and-white patrol car as well as a blue pickup.

From the air he was never able to spot the patrol unit in the Kenefic area. It was not known until later that both troopers had been killed. One of them managed to key his radio and shout, "We've been hit!" It was the last transmission from that unit.

Basinger did spot a white and blue pickup and dropped down low enough to tell it was a Chevrolet and not Washington's Ford. Back up he went. He turned south and flew to the first county road south of SH 22.

"I saw a blue Ford pickup traveling at a high rate of speed," Basinger said. "We were sure there was no farmer going to drive like that."

Basinger was in constant radio contact with nearby ground units and he dropped down low enough so that he was certain Dennis and Lancaster were aware of his presence.

He bird-dogged the pickup as it sped east to the west edge of Caddo.

Hughes and Grimes were paralleling the pickup on a road a mile away. Both vehicles were zeroing in on Caddo. Due to a curve in one of the roads, when they reached the community the pickup and the troopers were only four blocks apart, Basinger said.

Dennis and Lancaster were winding around on back streets, running into deadends, Basinger said. Meanwhile, Hughes and Grimes were closing in.

Then both cars turned into the same street from opposite directions. The pickup spun into a yard, mowed down a honeysuckle bush and skidded to a stop under a tree.

"I'm convinced they were trying to hide the pickup from me," Basinger said. "I don't think they had any knowledge there were any ground units close to this location."

Hughes and Grimes were about a block and half away, Basinger said, and traveling fast.

"Just as he came around a couple of trees - before the car even stopped - I saw a muzzle blast from the gun of the fugitives," Basinger said, adding he could not see Dennis and Lancaster at the time. He later learned they were crouching in front of the pickup.

Basinger said he was concentrating on getting more help into the area so he climbed to a higher altitude to get a better overall picture. After that, "The details on the ground weren't apparent to me any more."

It was mass confusion on the ground.

"I really don't know when it ended," he said. "There were still a lot of people running around trying to administer first aid and so on."