Only On 9: OHP Helicopter Pilots Protected Troopers From The Air
OKLAHOMA CITY - A brave decision by a couple of Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers may very well be one of the most important factors in bringing Michael Vance's run from the law to an end.
The troopers who piloted the OHP helicopter put their own lives at risk in the high-speed chase and late-night gun battle on Sunday.
Capt. Brian Sturgill, a 22-year veteran, and trooper Cole Patterson, a 10-year veteran, have flown in many pursuits during their time with OHP.
Both agree, the flight they made to stop Vance was different from the rest.
"This was the most violent person I have ever seen in my life," said Sturgill
Sturgill and Patterson were asked to look for Vance in a white flatbed truck.
The call stated someone, believed to be Vance, had just shot the Dewey County Sheriff Clay Sander.
The pilots were in flight for fuel.
But they stopped short of that trip and began searching a 10-square-mile area for the fugitive.
"We have a saying that it's two to say go, and one to say no," Sturgill explained.
By the time pilots located Vance, the helicopter fuel light indicated only 20 minutes of flight time remaining.
A chase began.
A patrol SUV following on the ground and the OHP helicopter overhead.
Sturgill says he was flying with night goggles.
His partner Patterson was operating a Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) camera to get a look at Vance's every move.
Vance blew through a partial road block and shot at three troopers.
Those troopers joined in the pursuit.
"You're looking at the guys on the ground and you realize this man has every intention in the world to kill as many people as he can," said Sturgill.
With fuel dwindling, Sturgill and Patterson made the decision to stay the course and assist the troopers on the ground.
"Our consideration was not for ourselves. It was to do everything we could to make sure the guys on the ground knew where this guy was," said Sturgill.
The helicopter had the only set of eyes on Vance who was armed with an AK 47 shooting at troopers.
"The best thing we can do is stay with them as long as we can and give them [the troopers] step-by-step what we see," Patterson explained.
Patterson said it was so dark it was difficult for anyone, including Vance, to see what was in front of them.
The FLIR helped Patterson guide the five troopers on the ground.
Troopers Brian Costanza, a 14-year veteran with the patrol, Trent Keasler, in his third year on the job, Micah Whittington, a 19-year veteran with OHP, and two 11-year veterans, Brandon Seward and Chris Hanover.
Patterson also described the critical moment when Vance bailed out of the truck.
The video showed Vance as he fired a couple of shots at the helicopter. Then, once again, he turned the gun on the five troopers on the ground.
"When the truck starts rolling backward ... I glance at it and the fuel gauge is showing zero," said Sturgill.
Sturgill said he began preparing for engine shut down, while Patterson continued to advice troopers of Vance's action, right up to the moment that Michael Vance was no longer a threat.
"It's good to be a part of the team that stopped him," said Patterson.
The troopers landed in the nearest field and waited on gas.
However, the fog forced them to stay grounded until morning.