Oklahoma tornadoes: May 31 tornado panic led people to flee cars for the homes of strangers

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater said breaking into a home may not be illegal if fleeing danger, but he advised against it.
by Nolan Clay Modified: June 15, 2013 at 11:43 pm •  Published: June 16, 2013

Mashburn also said he would have to consider the circumstances of each case before deciding whether to prosecute. He warned, “If there's occupants inside, like a home, and they say, ‘No, you're not coming in here,' you can't just force your way in, no matter what.”

Allen, a furniture repairman, is fixing the door and door jamb himself. “That door was laying sideways and twisted,” he said. “Normally, the glass door is locked. I didn't take the time to lock it when I left here …. I'd have let the folks in if I'd been here.”

Guest for the night

His next-door neighbor, Nikki Winters, 63, did let in four people the evening of May 31. One spent the night.

Winters and her son were huddled underneath a mattress in a hallway when they heard a knocking on the door that leads from the house to the garage.

“Then the door opened and … a man said, ‘Is anybody there? Can we come in?'” she said.

Three people — a younger couple and a man with them — had gotten lost and saw that her side garage door had blown open. They went into the garage, and a woman, a hotel worker, followed them.

Winters, a secretary for U.S. Attorney Sanford Coats, said she let the four under the regular-size mattress with her and her son. The power already had gone out.

“It was pretty crowded. We were crowded together,” she said. “I had a battery-powered radio and we were listening to that, trying to see what was going to happen next, and just hoping and praying that it went past or went over us. … Oh, the wind was terrible, and the lightning, just constant. … It was just terrible. We were under the mattress for … probably about 15 minutes or so until we were sure it had gone by.

“It was so flooded out there that they were just wet, top to bottom,” she said.

She said the three people who came in first waited until there was a break in the rain and left in their pickup. They thanked her. She said she doesn't know their names.

Winters said, “The other lady who had come in behind them … was just scared to death to try to make it home. … Finally, we just decided … that she should just stay here for the night, and so she slept on our couch that night. … We got out some blankets and a pillow and stuff and she left early the next morning because she had to go to work. … She thanked us again, too. ”


by Nolan Clay
Sr. Reporter
Nolan Clay was born in Oklahoma and has worked as a reporter for The Oklahoman since 1985. He covered the Oklahoma City bombing trials and witnessed bomber Tim McVeigh's execution. His investigative reports have brought down public officials,...
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