Former Oklahoma Highway Patrol Col. Mike Grimes has been on many prison escapee manhunts over the years, but he still has trouble reliving one in particular — the 1978 pursuit that ended in the death of his twin brother, Lt. Pat Grimes.
Pat Grimes, 36, of Moore, was one of three troopers killed on May 26, 1978, during a gunbattle in Caddo with two escapees from the Oklahoma State Penitentiary.
Another trooper also was wounded.
Also killed were troopers Houston Frank "Pappy" Summers, 62, of Enid, and Billy G. Young, 50, of Woodward.
Mike Grimes said the gunbattle forever changed the way the OHP conducts manhunts. He said all troopers now are equipped with protective vests and revised manhunt procedures.
"Any time you have an escape, it endangers people's lives," he said.
Warden Randall G. Workman has served at the state penitentiary for three years. In earlier decades, he said, movement inside the prison wasn't as restricted as it is now.
Over the years, new measures were put into place to limit movement and privileges. Warden's assistant Terry Crenshaw said inmates now are allowed only to shower and go out into the yard with their cellmates.
Releasing too many inmates at once could result in a prison disturbance similar to the 1973 McAlester prison riot that destroyed several buildings and caused at least $20 million in damage.
The penitentiary currently houses about 959 inmates. Crenshaw said the state has 68 men and one woman on death row that will be executed at the prison.
Escapees on the run
The deadly pursuit began when Claude Eugene Dennis, 35, and Michael Lancaster, 25, escaped through a tunnel at the penitentiary April 23, 1978, and went on a rampage, murdering at least seven people between Oklahoma and Alabama.
Mike Grimes said Dennis was serving time for three murders and Lancaster was convicted of armed robbery.
"I think that's particularly significant in that fact that (Dennis) was a known murderer though he was still allowed full access to the prison," Mike Grimes said.
Once they were free, the two took the wife of a prison guard who lived at the facility and stole her vehicle and firearms.
Reign of terror
"That started their reign of terror across the state of Oklahoma and across other southeastern states," Grimes said. "Ultimately, their reign of terror took eight lives and possibly one or two more — we never could determine for sure.
"They were on a mission to take lives."
Troopers were tracking Dennis and Lancaster near Lake Texoma when they received a call from a man who said he had been tied up by them.
The man said the escapees took his vehicle and were headed toward Caddo.
Partners Summers and Young passed the vehicle on State Highway 48 near Durant and pulled them over. Mike Grimes said the agency thinks the troopers knew who they had stopped.
"They were about 50, 60 feet apart. The troopers took an aggressive stance to stop them, to take them into custody, and a gunfight ensued," he said. "Trooper Young was killed first. Trooper Summers was killed second."
The escapees then walked up to the troopers, shot Summers a second time, then took their weapons before proceeding into Caddo.
Pat Grimes and his partner, Lt. Hoyt Hughes, heard about the search and went to block the escapees while other units were headed to the scene.
The escapees turned into a driveway and Pat Grimes and Hughes pulled up in an unmarked vehicle. Dennis and Lancaster opened fire on the troopers.
Mike Grimes said his brother tried to fire back but was hit and killed. Hughes, was wounded and moved the vehicle out of the line of fire.
Upon arrival, Lt. Mike Williams spotted Lancaster on the ground, wounded. He was able to shoot him as well as Dennis.
Both escapees died at the scene, Mike Grimes said.
It's been 33 years since the shooting, but Mike Grimes said he remembers it vividly.
Even though he wasn't at the scene, he remembers the moment a lieutenant told him his brother had died.
"To lose three troopers is a terrible day. For one of them to be your twin brother is the worst day I could ever think of," he said, fighting back tears.
He said he often wonders if things might have turned out differently had he been there.
"We'd never faced convicts that would lay an ambush for us. Typically bad guys are going to run from you," he said. "We'd never been up against this before."