SHAWNEE — A state trooper honored for helping save a Kingfisher couple from floodwaters has been on paid leave for 15 months pending the outcome of an investigation over possible stolen helicopter parts. Trooper Joe Howard has continued to draw his $57,600 annual salary. Howard said Friday his attorney, Gary James, advised him not to talk with the media. Calls to his attorney were not returned. Howard was previously a pilot with the Highway Patrol’s Troop O aviation division and was part of the team that in August 2007 plucked Leroy and Bernice Krittenbrink from the rushing, muddy waters that overtook their community. The rescue was captured on video and telecast nationwide. Howard has since been reassigned to a turnpike patrol, but remains off duty until the investigation into the missing parts is complete, OHP spokesman Chris West said. West said Howard was not reassigned because of any suspected wrongdoing. The patrol was simply downsizing its aviation division, he said. While on leave from the patrol, Howard has been working at his business, Central Disposal of Shawnee. He’s entering a lease-purchase agreement for a building that was formerly the law office for Gov. Brad Henry and his deceased father, Judge Charles Henry. The building is owned by a Henry family trust, and has been vacant for seven years. Troopers on leave with pay, such as Howard, are required to be home during their eight-hour work shifts, said Wellon Poe, attorney for the state Department of Public Safety. He said they must telephone the patrol twice a day from home and, to his knowledge, no one has ever been reprimanded for violating the policy. Poe said he couldn’t comment specifically about Howard or others who are involved in the investigation. At least one other trooper, now retired, and a civilian employee were part of the initial investigation, sources close to the investigation told The Oklahoman.
Investigation drags onThe investigation into alleged missing helicopter parts began 15 months ago with the internal affairs division of the Public Safety Department. Its findings were forwarded to Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, who gave it to state Attorney General Drew Edmonson, citing Edmonson’s better resources to investigate a case spanning multiple counties. The attorney general’s office in August asked the state auditor for an investigative review. It will be at least a month before it’s released to Edmondson, said Trey Davis, spokesman for the auditor’s office. Davis said their investigation included the inspection of parts records from Troop O and surveillance tapes. Marcus Dunn, owner of Specialty Aviation Services in Seminole, said an FBI agent and a member of the trooper’s internal affairs division questioned him in June about helicopter parts that were unaccounted for. Dunn said they repeatedly told him he had done nothing wrong, but were looking to corroborate information given to them by members of Troop O. Dunn said for at least five years, he inspected military surplus helicopter parts for the patrol. Part of his job included determining whether the parts were worthy enough for an 8130-3 tag — an approved parts return to service tag. The tag makes the parts more valuable to trade for other parts or services, Dunn said. Dunn said he showed the investigators all of the parts he was holding for Troop O and an inventory list that showed each was accounted for. He said they couldn’t have been too concerned about the parts, because it was six months before anyone with the patrol retrieved them.