Article 27: June 2022
Townsend drove off cliff to avoid officers’ gunfire
By Chris Willingham
Larry Townsend said that on June 1 he did elude an Idabel officer, but he never dreamed he would have to drive off a bluff into Red River to flee deputies’ gunfire.
The sheriff’s department is currently the subject of an OSBI investigation because of Townsend’s shooting incident, sheriff’s department attorney Justin Ashlock told the newspaper.
Townsend, 70, of Idabel, said in an interview Monday that he and his girlfriend were arguing June 1 and she had taken keys, truck and money. He said he went to a home on 7th Street to try to get his money back and then left.
He said his girlfriend hit his truck with her vehicle. In an Idabel police report, she said it was he who had struck her vehicle.
Townsend said he left and didn’t see any officers, but later noticed an Idabel officer behind him with lights and sirens on.
He admitted he didn’t pull over and eluded the Idabel officer, driving toward his home on Peregrine Road, near Red River.
“I saw his red and blue lights, but he eventually turned around. I went home. I didn’t even know the county was after me,” he said.
“I didn’t stop on that dirt road, but I figured they’d call me and I’d turn myself in for eluding the next morning.”
Townsend said when he got to his home near Red River, there wasn’t anyone else there.
“No police, no county, no cars in my yard.”
He said he went into his house, but realized he had forgotten his phone charger in his truck.
“I go back out to the truck to get my charger and I see dome lights behind the field; they didn’t have any headlights on,”
Townsend said he couldn’t see who the vehicle or person was, but only saw interior cab lights and a flashlight out in a field. “They didn’t have any other lights on, no police lights.
“I had to drive back there to see what that was because people have stolen from us and they run coon dogs back there,” he said.
“I went out and turned and they just started shooting,” Townsend said.
“I didn’t know who it was, they just started shooting. At no time did they see me (facing them); they just saw the back of my truck.
“So I laid down in the seat (to keep from being hit by bullets). I said to myself, ‘Larry, you’ve gotta be getting close to that (river) bank now.’
Townsend said he thought about jumping out of the moving truck and trying to roll, but was scared the truck would run over him.
“I raised back up and I was getting close to the big grass we don’t cut, right next to the river, and then, Boom! I went off that bank, 38 feet.”
Townsend’s red Dodge overturned once in the air, landing upside down with the truck bed in Red River and his headlights facing back toward the bank, he said.
Sheriff’s department radio logs verify Townsend’s story, as it indicates deputies were on Peregrine Road in a field near Townsend’s home.
The logs say deputies saw headlights and Townsend tried to run over deputy Michael Kelly and officers in turn began shooting at Townsend.
“I don’t know why they shot at me. I wasn’t posing any threat to anybody,” he said.
“I could never see who was shooting at me, because they were behind me. I was trying to get away from that shooting.
“I knew I was close to the river bank. I was trying to get back to that 180 acres; I live there, I’ve cut all that, but, I was panicking. They were shooting at me,” he said.
“I asked that sheriff when they had me in custody in their truck, I said, ‘Who was that shooting at me? He said,
‘Nobody, I didn’t hear any shooting.’
“I hear a lot of bad stuff about that sheriff, and he sat there and looked me in the face and said they weren’t shooting at me.
“I said, ‘It’s your story, you can tell it anyway you want to, but I know when I’m being shot at.’
“And I knew he was lying when I asked him again, ‘Why were y’all trying to kill me? And he said, ‘You were trying to run over my officer!’
“He knew he was lying. I said, ‘How can you tell me I’m trying to run over your officer when your officer was behind my truck and y’all are shooting at me?
“If I’m advancing on a deputy, trying to run him down, then why were they shooting at the back of my truck?”
“That’s what that (deputy’s) body cam footage is going to show. I don’t know exactly where they were behind me, but they were behind me, shooting at me.
“Only one way I could go and I knew it was only 100 yards or so to that river, but that was the only way I could go. I had no choice. I couldn’t turn around, never thought about turning around. They’re shooting at me.”
Townsend said he didn’t know how many times deputies shot at him, but it was a lot.
“I just heard, ‘Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom!”
Sheriff’s department radio logs of that evening show two different occurrences of officers shooting at Townsend, once at 11:57 p.m. and again at 12:01 a.m.
Deputies on scene called for backup following the 12:01 a.m. shooting, the logs show.
Townsend said he only realized it was sheriff’s deputies who had been shooting at him when they began trying to extricate him from his truck.
“I never saw any police until they got me out of the river. They never announced themselves as police. I never saw them until they got me out of the river.”
“I was trapped at first and they drug me out by my leg and it was hurt, but I was more concerned if they were going to shoot me.”
After being extracted, Townsend was placed in custody and taken to McCurtain Memorial and then to a hospital in Texas for treatment.
He said after he was released from the Texas hospital, he was booked into the county jail here, but a judge released him the same day and he was taken to a Durant hospital, where he stayed for two weeks from injuries sustained during the incident.
Townsend had to use a walker for weeks after being released from the hospital, but now just uses a cane to walk.
“I didn’t have problems like this before, just old age, but I wasn’t experiencing pain like I am now before this happened.
“I’ve got pain that starts in my neck and goes to the top of my head, but I’m just glad to be alive. I really thought they were going to kill me,” he said.
He said he has undergone two MRIs and has leg, neck and head pain and problems with his pacemaker from the incident.
Townsend was initially booked into the county jail on complaints of leaving the scene of an accident involving damage, eluding an officer and aggravated assault and battery on a police officer, but has not been charged with any crime in the county.
Court records show he has traffic and misdemeanor convictions, but has never been charged with any felony here.
After the incident, this newspaper began requesting a report on the incident, even before the sheriff’s department was under OSBI investigation, but never received a report.
Townsend said he intends to file a lawsuit against the county and thinks he has a very winnable case.
“I still don’t understand. It’s perplexing to me. Why would they want to kill me?
“Seems like they’re doing this all the time now, but this time it nearly cost me my life.”