Five state troopers who played a critical role in stopping the run of a dangerous fugitive last year are now speaking out about the incident and the very tense moments at its conclusion.
"You're just thinking, basically killing him before he kills you," said Trooper Trent Keasler, "because that's what he was going to do."
Trooper Keasler was sitting comfortably this week with the three of the other four troopers -- Micah Whittington, Chris Hanover, and Brandon Seward -- in very sharp contrast to the situation they found themselves in just over two months ago.
On October 30, 2016, after a week of searching for Michael Vance, the primary suspect in the murder of two relatives and the shooting of two Wellston police officers, word came that Vance had likely been located near Hammon, in rural western Oklahoma. There were more than 100 officers in the area, all of them eager to bring Vance in. But, in the end, that responsibility fell to Keasler and his colleagues.
Reflecting now on the gravity of the task, Keasler says it came down to a simple fact: "He was wanting to kill all of us. but he just happened to find five guys who were willing to be just as violent as he was."
On that eerily dark night, Vance led Trooper Brian Costanza down a rural road in Custer County.
At the same time, troopers Whittington, Hanover, Seward, and Keasler were in tandem, fully engaged in what would be the final confrontation with Vance.
"I am 100 percent confident that what we did was the right thing and was the only option," said Trooper Seward.
Seward and his partners first tried to stop Vance by setting up a partial roadblock on the rural road on which he was trying to flee from Costanza.
"He was willing to take out anyone that got in his way," Seward said, matter-of-factly.
And Vance nearly did, racing through the intersection and narrowly missing Trooper Whittington.
"When I got to the edge of the road, his headlights come over the hill," Whittington recalled, "and we all remember the distinct noise of him hammering on the gas to go faster."
A barrage of bullets pierced the patrol cars as Trooper Keasler then jumped into the pursuit.
"The way he was shooting," said Keasler, "you could hear the crack of those bullets flying by you."
Keasler was second in the line of fire as Vance, armed with an AK-47, emptied at least two 30-round magazines.
Trooper Hanover joined in the gun battle as it slow-rolled to a stop.
"My partners were getting shot at, and I was getting shot at," Hanover explained, "and we had to deal with the threat that was in front of us."
Before the dust settled from the chase, the troopers were in a full-blown shootout, fighting not only the suspect, but extremely poor visibility. Their training kicked in, however, and they focused on one thing: stopping Vance before he hurt anyone else.
The troopers say, without question, Vance was the most dangerous suspect they have encountered.
"He was absolutely committed in what he was trying to do," said Keasler, "and it just happened to end, by the grace of god, that no one on our side got hurt."
Michael Vance, after exiting his stolen vehicle and again taking aim at his pursuers, was shot dead, in the middle of the road.