A state trooper chased a “possible stolen vehicle” at up to 125 mph into Tulsa on the Broken Arrow Expressway based only on the word of a motorist at a stoplight who had pursued the pickup truck in Coweta.
The truck’s driver — a 14-year-old boy — accelerated as Oklahoma Highway Patrol Lt. Mark Warren first approached in his marked Ford Explorer. Some 20 miles away, a Tulsa family was running midday errands in their neighborhood.
The fleeing teen soon clipped a vehicle and later another one, weaving through traffic and speeding recklessly through an occupied construction zone. Still, Warren thought he and others could keep chasing and bring about “a safe end” to the pursuit despite seeing the hits and near-misses, according to OHP’s major case file records.
But the 13-minute pursuit ended when the truck slammed into the Tulsa family’s SUV on the city’s east side. The fleeing driver exited the wrecked Silverado and collapsed close by, quickly detained by Warren.
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The lone survivor in the crumpled Tahoe — a 7-year-old boy in the back — cried as he held up an arm while pinned inside. His aunt and cousin were dead, slumped over in the front seats.
“It just seemed like (troopers) were on an adrenaline rush; they just wanted the perp, so they didn’t care what happened,” said Tredrick Johnson, the father of the young boy in the SUV who survived the crash. “I feel like if they cared about the safety of the people on the streets they wouldn’t have pursued him like that.”
Lanise Dade, 31, and her 12-year-old daughter, Camyea, were the third and fourth uninvolved motorists to die during OHP pursuits in less than five years in Tulsa County. They are part of a broader deadly trend with the state’s Highway Patrol.
In a five-year span, 15 OHP pursuits have killed 18 people — and at least eight of those killed weren’t the eluding drivers. Five were uninvolved motorists, at least two were passengers in fleeing vehicles, and one was an OHP lieutenant on foot struck by another trooper’s cruiser at high speed.
All but one of the deadly pursuits began with stolen property or traffic violations as the basis for the chase, despite agency policy requiring troopers to weigh whether benefits outweigh a pursuit’s risks and “promote the safety of all persons.”
OHP Capt. Jerry Reagan gave family members a “minimal briefing” at the hospital about five hours after Dade and her daughter were killed, according to agency records. Johnson said he and his family didn’t actually learn until two days later that the chase began in Coweta on a word-of-mouth report that a truck possibly had been stolen.
“It just made me angry. That’s it. I hated the whole world,” Johnson said. “Literally, I lost my best friend to something that was stupid.”
Johnson’s family is represented by Smolen Law, which provided the Tulsa World with OHP documentation after the agency failed to respond to an open records request submitted by the newspaper more than a year ago.
Tim Tipton, the third Department of Public Safety commissioner since fall 2017 — who oversees OHP — hasn’t responded to the World’s interview requests. He also refused to reply to written questions.
The Tulsa World’s ongoing investigation of the Highway Patrol has uncovered reckless trooper actions, shoddy record-keeping, failure to address “alarming” concerns expressed by commanders, and refusal to review a fatal chase that OHP undertook in wintry conditions even though the stolen car’s location was being tracked electronically.
Elias Gonzales, now 15, was charged as an adult with two counts of felony first-degree murder, but that case was transferred out of Tulsa County District Court. If federal charges are filed, they would be sealed because of his age, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney General’s Office.
The deadly crash happened at East 21st Street and South 109th East Avenue, less than a half mile from Camyea’s grade school.
‘It’s just too hard’
Lanise Dade helped raise her younger brother.
She protected Tredrick Johnson from fights, encouraging him to be better and achieve goals outside his comfort zone.
Johnson, 30, is returning his sister’s childhood mentorship. He cares for her remaining child, 15-year-old Cornelius, in addition to his young son who survived the wreck, Dedrick.
“She shaped the way I am today; she really changed my life,” Johnson said. “Even though I had my mom and everything, my sister was there more than my mom was because Mom had two jobs.
“I always had my big sister to look up to.”
Johnson described his sister as a “foodie” who was always out helping in the community. She sported a tough exterior but harbored a soft heart to help others who are disadvantaged.
Dade talked about starting her own day care or nonprofit.
Camyea, whose 13th birthday was approaching when she was killed, wanted to be a doctor.
Johnson said Camyea drew a doctor’s coat for a school contest — and then they had it made for her. She loved it and wore it everywhere.
“It’s still hanging up in the house to this day,” Johnson said. “We can’t get rid of it because it’s just too hard.”
Johnson said his mother doesn’t really like to talk about what happened Feb. 25, 2021, and breaks down every time she tries. She “shut down” and wouldn’t come out of her room on the one-year anniversary.
“Not having them there, it’s not the same energy in the house,” Johnson said. “They were the ones that brought happiness and joy everywhere. We’d be sitting there quietly, and they’d come in the room and bring joy and life to the whole room.”
Johnson said troopers didn’t seem to express remorse in the aftermath. There was no condolence letter nor a “sorry” for the deaths of his sister and niece.
“They know what they did, and they know they shouldn’t have done it that way,” he said.
‘A systemic problem’
The Highway Patrol has clammed up in the year after the deadly pursuit.
OHP’s response — or lack thereof — is consistent generally with how the agency has obfuscated or denied Tulsa World attempts to peel back the curtains on many of its deadly vehicular chases to learn what happened and why.
The World pursued legal recourse in October 2020 over OHP’s refusal to turn over use-of-force records for a year while offering vague and contradictory responses about protocols and practices in sporadic replies. After OHP produced documents and agreed to provide all pertinent records, the World agreed to dismiss the litigation in March 2021.
No troopers have been disciplined by OHP in the 15 fatality pursuits, according to the agency records released so far.
Some policing researchers and strategists say law enforcement shouldn’t engage in vehicular pursuits unless a violent crime is involved — fleeing itself doesn’t count — because of their inherent dangers to life and limb.
Attorney Donald Smolen II said the case is one of many examples of how troopers and the Highway Patrol are allowed to operate unrestrained.
Smolen said many lives would be saved if OHP were prohibited from pursuing for nonviolent felonies and misdemeanors — not worth the dangers that chases present.
“It’s a systemic problem that starts at the top,” Smolen said. “No one with OHP thinks there’s a problem with their hot pursuit protocols, and there is. The whole thing needs to be revamped.”
No dash camera
Warren was interviewed by OHP investigators 19 days after the deadly pursuit, according to OHP records.
For unspecified or unknown reasons, Warren’s patrol SUV wasn’t equipped with an in-car camera system to provide a recording of what happened that Thursday afternoon for accountability.
Other troopers who were involved presumably had dash cameras, but those recordings haven’t been released yet by OHP.
The video camera’s absence is even more notable because of what could be a policy violation by Warren noted in documents.
OHP prohibits troopers from chasing a fleeing vehicle “the wrong way in opposing lanes of traffic” when there are at least four lanes.
An arrest affidavit states that the eluder drove the wrong way on 41st Street — a five-lane roadway.
OHP documents show no indication that Warren stopped his pursuit at that point.
At another point, the fleeing driver exited U.S. 169 via an on-ramp to 41st Street. Warren’s interview summary doesn’t specify whether Warren himself also used the on-ramp to exit, only that he slowed to “safely navigate the exit.”
Nowhere in the summary of his interview does it say whether Warren knew he was chasing a young juvenile. Nor was that issue addressed in any other reports from the troopers involved in the pursuit — some who were in front trying to set up for spike strips when the truck passed.
The agency’s collision report makes no mention that the crash happened amid an OHP chase.
‘Anybody that panics does reckless stuff’
At one point, the fleeing driver swerved around spike strips thrown in front of the Silverado on the Broken Arrow Expressway.
Warren’s interview summary spells out the extreme dangers of the chase: Gonzales cutting off motorists and passing on shoulders to clipping two vehicles and speeding through an occupied construction zone.
The OHP lieutenant said he felt the need for law enforcement to intervene to end the chase, rather than call it off.
“(Warren) continued to evaluate the pursuit,” according to his interview summary. “He thought with TPD and troopers nearby and closing in on the area, they should be able to bring this pursuit to a safe end.”
Tredrick Johnson said he feels like the troopers mindlessly pursued the Silverado while on a “power trip” despite the apparent hazards.
Someone trying to flee law enforcement obviously will engage in reckless behavior, Johnson said, but that shouldn’t give troopers permission to continue a chase that is greatly endangering the public.
“If you’re chasing anybody — you could be going 40 mph — if you’re chasing anybody, they’re gonna do reckless stuff,” Johnson said. “You know that just like I know that. Anybody that panics does reckless stuff.”
Gonzales, the alleged eluder, reportedly was recorded by a trooper on scene as the 14-year-old spoke with an emergency medical technician.
He expressed regret and remorse that he panicked, didn’t stop and wrecked into the family.
“I took (the truck) and then it was a fun time at first, cause, and then I got agitated,” Gonzales allegedly said. “I was scared, so I took off, and was trying to pull, I was going to pull over and run, but I didn’t.”
Smolen said OHP chases usually involve stolen cars or traffic infractions in which the drivers aren’t driving recklessly until a trooper tries to pull them over.
Restraints on pursuits aren’t minimizing crimes, Smolen said, but are about ensuring more innocent people don’t die in unnecessary chases when troopers can use investigative means to apprehend eluders.
“OHP instigates the reckless conduct, and then they just (drive) their patrol cruisers as fast as they can,” Smolen said.
Motorist pursues to ‘keep eyes’ on truck
Trooper Warren was stopped at a traffic light on westbound Oklahoma 51 in Coweta when a Dodge pickup truck “with it’s (sic) lights on” approached at a “high rate of speed.”
Warren rolled down his passenger-side window to tell the driver to slow down.
“As the driver stopped beside him, the driver began telling Warren there was a stolen pickup ahead of them,” according to Warren’s interview summary. “The driver described the stolen pickup as a silver Chevrolet.”
That was all the information noted in OHP records that Warren used in deciding to give chase when the Silverado sped off at the sight of Warren’s Explorer.
The motorist who told Warren the truck was stolen provided a statement to Coweta police about what had happened. He had seen a man “yelling and slapping” the truck as it left the car wash, and that person told the motorist it had just been stolen.
“I immediately left out in pursuit to follow and keep eyes on the truck to notify law enforcement of the current location,” the motorist wrote.
Security cameras at the car wash recorded the theft.
Four suspects exited a black Hyundai and pretended to dry the car even though they hadn’t gone through the wash and the car “was visibly dirty.” The truck’s driver walked off to get a complimentary towel, allowing one of the four suspects to get into the truck and back out.
The four had arrived to the business in a stolen car, too.
That Hyundai had been taken at gunpoint two days earlier in Tulsa by Gonzales and an accomplice, according to allegations in court records. Gonzales and another male allegedly forced the victim to drive at gunpoint until the victim parked and fled.
Troopers later found out that Gonzales in December 2020 had absconded from his home placement that had been approved either by the courts or State Department of Human Services.
Achievement draws tears
Tredrick Johnson was tidying up paperwork during his final class at a career-readiness center when he received a call from the hospital about an accident involving his son.
Johnson had been brushing up on his resume and interview skills at the urging of his sister. He tried repeatedly calling Dade, but she didn’t pick up.
“Me, personally, I thought my son was dead,” Johnson said. “I thought it had just happened, and she didn’t have the heart to tell me. I got to the hospital, and he was there by himself.”
For a month, Johnson struggled to even leave his bed, often lying and crying instead. He quit his second job to have more time to care for his nephew.
He had a goal to become certified to operate a forklift — another effort cheered by his sister. He even promised her.
Two months after Dade’s and Camyea’s deaths, Johnson held his forklift license.
“It felt good, but that good feeling didn’t last too long,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t experience it with her. I couldn’t show them that I was doing better in my life. I couldn’t show them that I was achieving goals that I had set, even though she pushed me down that road.
“It made me feel good, but I couldn’t do nothing but cry afterwards. I got home; I just cried.”
In this Series
Tulsa World investigates: Oklahoma Highway Patrol fatality pursuits, deadly shootings
Stricken warning was 'unnecessary' in pursuit policy, Oklahoma Highway Patrol said. Then 4 people were killed in chases.
Trooper in fatal OHP pursuit for stolen tag had rifle cocked before spinning out SUV at over 100 mph
Trooper thought fleeing driver ‘might make a mistake.' The chase killed a Tulsa mother and her child.
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