The Oklahoma City Times, Thursday, July 27, 1978
Mistakes not blamed for deaths
Troopers supported by report
A board of inquiry issued a report concluding the patrol scored favorably in most of its southern Oklahoma search operation for the two escaped convicts. It said there were some mistakes but none that could be blamed for the slaying of three troopers in the shootout.
The board released its report and a 90-minute video-taped reenactment of the slayings in a two-hour briefing.
The board, responding to criticism from a trooper organization, said it might have been beneficial for all troopers to have been equipped with semi-automatic rifles but added it could not find evidence lack of firepower resulted in the tragedies.
Escaped convicts Claude Eugene Dennis, 35, and Michael Lancaster, 25, were killed by troopers May 26 in Caddo, Okla., at the end of a trail of terror through Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama in which they had killed at least eight persons.
Troopers Houston "Pappy" Summers and Billy Young were killed in a head-on shootout with the convicts on a rural road near Kenefic.
Trooper Pat Grimes was killed and Hoyt Hughes was wounded in the final shootout in Caddo in which both convicts were slain. Hughes was credited with killing one convict and Trooper Mike Williams the other.
Responding to a question whether it might have been helpful for all troopers to have had rifles, Lt. Larry Owen, a training officer, said, "in a situation like this, you want all the firepower you can get, but it would be speculation to say it would have made a difference. There's no way to know."
Lt. John Haynie said it might have been possible for Troopers Summers and Young to have pinned down the outlaws longer if they had had rifles but would not say it would have changed the outcome.
The report noted the convicts relied principally upon shotguns and said two troopers died from shotgun slugs and one from a rifle bullet.
The state has since ordered semi-automatic rifles for its entire patrol force.
"Although there were some mistakes made by troopers and some made by supervisory personnel," the board said, "the overall organization and implementation of this operation must be regarded in comparison to other operations of this nature. In making such a comparison, the board concludes that this operation scores favorably in almost all areas, a fact which does not negate the tragic loss of three heroic troopers."
"While semi-automatic weapons may have afforded additional advantage to Troopers Young and Summers," the report said, "there was no evidence which indicates that lack of firepower resulted in these tragedies."
Patrol Chief Jerry Horton said the troopers were operating at a disadvantage that is inherent in their work.
He said Young and Summers, in meeting the outlaws' stolen pickup on a country road, had to approach if from the standpoint of officers making an arrest.
"We cannot just get out of a patrol car and start firing," he said.
Another officer said the shootout in Caddo was complicated by the presence of four small children in the immediate area, which forced troopers to place themselves closer to the outlaws.
"Society demands that we function in a cautious, humane manner," the report said, "which often results in an initial advantage being given to the criminal."
The board said evidence indicated that Summers initially was only wounded by an outlaw's bullet and that the convict pair then approached the patrol car and shot Summers in the side with a shotgun before fleeing toward Caddo.
The report said the gun battle between the troopers and outlaws on the rural road was staged at a distance of about 85 yards, the approximate distance between their two vehicles which were meeting head-on when both stopped.