Courtesy of SCVHistory.com
April 5 marks a moment of infamy in the Santa Clarita Valley– the murder of four California Highway Patrol officers in what’s known as the Newhall Incident.
The 44th anniversary of the shootout is Saturday, and it’s a solemn reminder of the dangers of the job faced by law enforcement officers, a CHP official said Friday.
On April 5, 1970, Officers James Pence, Roger Gore, Walt Frago and George Alleyn lost their lives in a four-and-a-half-minute gun battle that occurred in a parking lot at the present-day intersection of The Old Road and Magic Mountain Parkway.
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Memorial signs stand on the 1-5 freeway near Magic Mountain Parkway and Rye Canyon, and a brick memorial and hallway where pictures and newspaper articles hang on the walls pay tribute to the officers, CHP Officer John Lutz said.
“Every day officers will walk from the locker room to the briefing room through this hallway, and that’s the way they recognize the dangers of the job and the officers who have lost their lives,” Lutz said.
The four young officers were relatively new to the CHP when they were murdered, having graduated from the police academy less than two years earlier. Their deaths left four women widows and seven children, ranging in age from 9 months to 4 years, without fathers.
Shortly before midnight, Officers Frago and Gore responded to a radio alert of a man who had brandished a weapon from inside a vehicle. After calling for backup, they were beginning the stop procedure when the passenger side door suddenly swung open and a man sprang out, shooting Frago twice in the chest.
The gunman, later identified as Jack Twinning, then turned and fired once at Gore, who returned fire. The driver of the vehicle, Bobby Davis, shot Gore twice at close range. Both officers died instantly.
When Pence and Alleyn arrived moments later, they immediately came under fire.
Both officers were mortally wounded in the ensuing gun exchange, which was joined by former U.S. Marine Gary Dean Kness, who had been driving by and witnessed the shootout.
As he saw one of the wounded officers fall to the ground, Kness pulled over and tried to pull him out of the line of fire, picking up a gun and managing to shoot one of the suspects.
Twinning and Davis, both ex-convicts who had met in prison, escaped and split up, leading officers on a nine-hour manhunt. Twinning killed himself after breaking into a house on Pico Canyon Road, and Davis was apprehended on San Francisquito Canyon Road.
Davis was later convicted of four counts of murder and sentenced to death, but after the 1972 California Supreme Court overturned the death penalty, his sentence was modified to life in prison. He, too, committed suicide Aug. 16, 2009, in his prison cell at Kern Valley State Prison.
Never before had so many officers been killed in one incident, and the tremor that rolled through the CHP spoke of grief for lost comrades and their suffering families, organizational concern with the urgency of rethinking high-risk stop procedures and the iron resolve to prevent a reoccurrence.
In the weeks immediately following the incident, the emotionally charged follow-up investigation ultimately resulted in a completely revamped set of procedures to be followed during high-risk and felony stops, with emphasis at every step on officer safety.
If there can be such a thing as a silver lining in a cloud this dark, it would be the renewed focus on officer safety — a concern still uppermost even forty years later.
“It’s a constant reminder that this job is an inherently dangerous job, that these officers were very young and had families,” Lutz said, “and that every day (officers) go out there, they’re putting their life on the line in dedication to community service, to serve the public and for public safety and security for the people of the state of California.”
Melissa Lampert contributed to this article.
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Source: Santa Clarita News