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CHP Honors Memory of 4 Officers Slain 20 Years Ago

April 07, 1990|STEVE PADILLA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was the bloodiest tragedy in the history of the California Highway Patrol, a savage episode that left four officers dead, the patrol forever changed and the families of the four slain officers shattered.

On April 6, 1970, four rookie officers, responding to a call of men brandishing weapons, were gunned down outside a Newhall restaurant by two ex-convicts who were driving through the area.

Twenty years later, under gloomy skies Friday afternoon, officers and civilians gathered outside the CHP office in Newhall to recall the incident and honor the memories of Walter C. Frago, George M. Alleyn, James E. Pence Jr. and Roger D. Gore.

"It shattered lives, it shattered families, it shattered a department's self-esteem," said Assistant Chief Richard Noonan.

The killings prompted the CHP to revamp its training procedures and tactics, and the events of that bloody night are hammered into the minds of aspiring officers at the patrol's training academy.

Some of the relatives of the dead officers say that, despite the never-ending hurt, they later restored order and peace to their lives.

But others never recovered.

"My dad committed suicide in the back yard," said Tim Gore, who was 16 when his brother was killed. His father, Max Gore, who died three years ago, was never able to enjoy life the way he had in the past when he and Roger Gore would go fishing and hunting outside Snelling, a town of 300 people not far from Merced.

At Friday's ceremony, a trumpeter played taps as officer Thomas Dailey, who knew the victims and still serves at the CHP Newhall station, laid a wreath of red, white and pink carnations at the foot of a stone marker and plaque outside the station a few miles south of where the killings occurred.

"We remember our officers, Walt Frago, George Alleyn, James Pence and Roger Gore, and in so doing speak of honor and dedication," Noonan said.

Along with the official ceremony, there were private remembrances.

In Merced, Frago's hometown in Central California, a rosary was said for the former altar boy who married his high school sweetheart and, according to his widow, joined the force to "help people."

In Newhall, Fred Iverson, a former San Fernando police officer who now is a bailiff in the San Fernando Courthouse, visited the site of killings around midnight, the time the episode began, in a private moment of recollection.

According to an official account published by the CHP, the incident began shortly before midnight on April 5, 1970, when two former prison inmates, Jack Twinning, 35, and Bobby Augusta Davis, 29, almost collided with another car while making a U-turn on Interstate 5 near Gorman.

The pair exchanged words with the other motorist and brandished guns at the startled driver before driving off toward the south. The motorist reported the incident to the CHP and Gore and Frago went to investigate.

Gore and Frago were more than fellow officers. Both 23, Frago grew up in Merced and Gore in nearby Snelling. Both liked to work with the public, relatives said, and by coincidence, the officers and their young families lived two doors from each other at an apartment complex in Newhall. They had become close friends.

For both officers, coming from rural Central California, Newhall was the "big city," recalled Frago's widow, Nikki Frago, now of Fresno.

Davis and Twinning were both from North Carolina and had served time together in the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kan. They were in Los Angeles planning to kidnap bank executives and hold them for ransom, according to court records.

Gore and Frago spotted Davis and Twinning in a car parked outside J's Coffee Shop on what is now Magic Mountain Parkway west of the freeway. The officers approached the car and began questioning the men.

Without warning, Frago was shot twice in the chest with a .357 magnum and died instantly. Seconds later, Gore was killed when hit in the chest with two shots from a .38-caliber revolver.

"He got careless so I wasted him" Twinning would later say of Frago.

Pence and Alleyn soon arrived and a gun battle ensued, all four men using shotguns and pistols as horrified diners ducked for cover. In a few minutes, both officers lay dead on the pavement. Twinning and Davis escaped into the night.

More than 200 officers descended on the valley for a manhunt that lasted nine hours. Twinning later broke into a house not far from the Newhall CHP station and briefly held a man hostage before releasing him.

When officers stormed the house using tear gas, Twinning "committed suicide by placing the muzzle of the CHP shotgun, stolen from one of the officers, under his chin and discharging the weapon," according to the CHP report.

Davis later stole a camper, tried to escape through San Francisquito Canyon toward the Antelope Valley but was stopped by sheriff's deputies and captured. Fran Lewis, a retired dispatcher with the CHP, recalled Friday the expression on Davis' face when he was driven up to the station.

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