Darkest Day

Painful memories resonate with Grimes on 40-year anniversary of highway patrolmen’s murders

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Highway patrolman Pat Grimes, twin brother of Yukon’s Mike Grimes, stands beside his patrol cruiser outside the state Capitol circa 1971.

By Tim Farley
News Editor

Forty years ago, young state trooper Mike Grimes experienced the darkest day of his life. So did the entire Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

Grimes, who was recovering from burn injuries suffered on the job, received word on May 26, 1978 that his twin brother Pat Grimes and two other troopers had been gunned down by escaped convicts Claude Eugene Dennis and Michael Lancaster in Bryan County.

The duo had escaped from the Oklahoma State Prison in McAlester and embarked on a murderous, 34-day stretch that left eight people, including the three troopers, dead. A massive manhunt involved lawmen from three states – Oklahoma, Texas and Alabama.

During an interview earlier this week with the Yukon Progress, Grimes – a former trooper and a current deputy with the Canadian County Sheriff’s Department – said he never forgets the darkness that covered him and the OHP four decades ago.

“I reflect back on it all the time,” said Grimes, a Yukon resident. “I’ve had the honor of working with families of troopers killed in the line of duty and what I tell them is it (pain) never goes away, but it gets better.”

Grimes, 76, became emotional several times during the interview as he talked about his brother, who was 36 when he died.

“Pat was supposed to take off that day and go to Falls Creek and help his church,” Grimes recalled. “He had been in Lawton for a trial that involved the shooting of a trooper who was wounded. Instead, he joined the manhunt. He was doing what he enjoyed doing and if you can do that, it’s a great life.”

As part of the 40th anniversary of the deadly shootout, a new memorial will be unveiled Saturday, May 26 with three separate granite monuments that honor each slain trooper.
The unveiling will be held 11 a.m. near Choctaw and Court streets in Caddo, just feet from where Pat Grimes was ambushed and fatally shot. A separate marker will tell the story of the tragedy that occurred that day.

Mike Grimes said former Lt. Governor Jari Askins and the OHP honor guard will attend the ceremony in Caddo. A small memorial was built in the 1980s in Caddo, but had fallen into disrepair, Grimes said. City officials have promised to maintain the memorial in honor of the slain trooopers.

Lessons learned

Mike Grimes, who was inducted into the Oklahoma Law Enforcement Hall of Fame, said the OHP learned several important lessons from the manhunt and shootout in Caddo.

“We changed the way we handled roadblock procedures and how we used tactical teams,” Grimes said. “They also equipped troopers with agency-issued rifles.”

All troopers were also provided with ballistic vests, including special services which was the unit Pat Grimes, Billy G. Young and Houston F. “Pappy” Summers were members. The OHP also began putting numbers on the top of patrol units so they could be seen by agency helicopters.

“The changes that came from that tragedy were very positive,” Mike Grimes said.
Canadian County Sheriff Chris West accompanied Grimes during the Yukon Progress interview. West worked as a trooper for more than 20 years before joining the sheriff’s office as undersheriff for Randall Edwards. After Edwards retired, West was elected sheriff in 2016.

“They (OHP) teach you the history of the agency and that includes the details of how troopers lost their lives. I buried several as the honor guard commander. When you’re in training, they drill into your head to have a plan when you make a stop. You learn from every situation where a tragedy or officer was killed,” West said. “When you get into this line of work, you have to know the risks.”

For Grimes, the death of any lawman while on duty brings back the darkness of May 26, 1978.

“Each time we lose another trooper it’s brought back home the pain we felt that day,” he said, as his voice trailed off.

Law enforcement is a family with strong bonds that are rarely broken except through death, West said.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s cancer, an accident or shooting. The law enforcement community is very deep. That’s what allows every officer to go out here and do our job,” he said. “It’s very sad to bury someone you work with. It’s like losing part of yourself.”

A few days after Grimes, Young and Summers were gunned down, their bodies laid in rest at the Oklahoma State Capitol as lawmen from several states, including so they could be seen by agency helicopters.

“The changes that came from that tragedy were very positive,” Mike Grimes said.
Canadian County Sheriff Chris West accompanied Grimes during the Yukon Progress interview. West worked as a trooper for more than 20 years before joining the sheriff’s office as undersheriff for Randall Edwards. After Edwards retired, West was elected sheriff in 2016.

“They (OHP) teach you the history of the agency and that includes the details of how troopers lost their lives. I buried several as the honor guard commander. When you’re in training, they drill into your head to have a plan when you make a stop. You learn from every situation where a tragedy or officer was killed,” West said. “When you get into this line of work, you have to know the risks.”

For Grimes, the death of any lawman while on duty brings back the darkness of May 26, 1978.

“Each time we lose another trooper it’s brought back home the pain we felt that day,” he said, as his voice trailed off.

Law enforcement is a family with strong bonds that are rarely broken except through death, West said.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s cancer, an accident or shooting. The law enforcement community is very deep. That’s what allows every officer to go out here and do our job,” he said. “It’s very sad to bury someone you work with. It’s like losing part of yourself.”

A few days after Grimes, Young and Summers were gunned down, their bodies laid in rest at the Oklahoma State Capitol as lawmen from several states, including Texas Rangers, paid their respects. Pat Grimes’ funeral was held at the largest church in Moore and he was buried in Sand Springs.

The shootout

According to the OHP, Summers, 62, and Young, 50, had been assigned to assist in the manhunt and Grimes and his partner Lt. Hoyt Hughes drew the same task. Summers and

Young were members of the motor inspection division. Grimes and Hughes were members of the Internal Affairs unit.

Summers and Young were on a roving patrol when they encountered the escaped convicts on a county road near Kenefic in Bryan County. Dennis was serving prison time for murder and Lancaster time for armed robbery.

A shootout ensued, but the felons had more guns than the troopers.

“Pappy and Bill went to reload, but Dennis and Lancaster advanced forward and Bill was shot in the head and Pappy was shot while he was on the radio,” Grimes recalled.

A second gun battle ensued when the suspects ambushed Grimes and Hughes from behind a tree as they patrolled a residential area of Caddo.

“They (suspects) opened fire and Pat was hit by a shotgun slug to the head,” Grimes said.

“Hoyt was wounded, but was able to use Pat’s AR-15 and shot back at them.”

Hughes, although wounded, continued shooting at the pair and eventually killed one of them. Seconds later, Lt. Mike Williams fatally wounded the second escaped convict.

Three more troopers died in 1978, which proved to be the deadliest year in the agency’s history.

Those three deaths occurred in July and were only 10 days apart.