At 11:55 p.m., April 5, 1970, two Officers of the California Highway Patrol stopped a car for brandishing a firearm at another vehicle hours earlier. Minutes later, they and two other CHP Officers would lie dead in the parking lot of the restaurant where the stop took place. Their murderers would escape into the night, virtually unscathed in the gunfire.
The officers were all young; two were 23 and two were 24. They were all married and had seven children between them. All of them had been CHP officers for less than two years.
The murderers were hardened criminals. Both had served prison time and one had killed another prisoner in self-defense while he was confined in Alcatraz. They were heavily armed with revolvers, autoloading pistols, and shotguns in preparation for committing bank robberies and armored truck heists.
Training films were made after the Incident to educate officers about the perils they could face.
One from the California Highway Patrol.
One from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office.
In the end, one criminal was cornered in a house and committed suicide. The other was captured at a roadblock. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment as a result of a Supreme Court ruling. In 2009, he committed suicide in his cell.
As is often the case, myths sprang up in the aftermath. One myth was that Officer Pence had put his brass in his pocket as he reloaded. This wasn’t true, but the myth persisted for decades.
While this was a Law Enforcement shootout, its most important lesson applies to us all. As John Farnam says:
When it’s least expected, you’re selected.