A.J. Stricker's Helicopter Chase with the Missouri State Patrol
Of all the reasons people have to attend the AAA/APM Invitational Fly-in here at Antique Airfield perhaps one of the biggest is the ability to totally immerse oneself into the world of antique & classic aircraft. It is a way to put the challenges and problems of the "outside" world away for a few days. The fly-in is spent enjoying the aircraft as well as the company of other like minded individuals and one might never know what that person you're talking with does to live, thrive and survive in the real world.
Suffice it to say that we have a very diverse and interesting cross section of people from all walks of life within the membership of the AAA and many are involved in aviation as a vocation (or a part thereof) as well as an avocation.
So it is with A.J. Stricker from Holts Summit, MO. A.J. can often be seen out flying his Ercoupe during the AAA/APM Fly-in with his ever-present American flag waving from the cockpit. However you might not know that A.J. was also a member of and pilot for the Missouri State Highway Patrol for twenty nine years.
Following then is a story of a harrowing and dangerous flight that found A.J. and his fellow officers in harm's way.
Can you believe its been eighteen years ago, on the 19th of May, a day that came so close to ending Sgt. David Mease's and my careers on the highway patrol..
When I write my book, The Other Side of Blue, my Twenty-Nine Years with the Missouri State Highway Patrol, I will plan a chapter in it, dedicated to that day. I figure the book will make the best seller's list within a few days!
May 19th, 1994, started out as a routine day, you were out doing your required two days on the road, the brass wanted us to not forget where we started from, now that we were hot shot pilots, it was to put us back in our place for two days. I remember it was a beautiful day, I was at General Headquarters, doing something, I was the only pilot on call that day, nothing was scheduled, so I was seeing to important duties at headquarters, also known as "Q": drinking coffee and talking to the girls.
It was around mid-morning, when an officer came thru the door of the office, and advised me the bank at Ashland had just been hit, and they had killed the bank president. I immediately made it to my patrol car, and with everything I had, and took off for the airport, to get our helicopter, N90MP into the air. I did not wait for another officer to go with me, because in many times past, waiting could mean the difference in apprehending the asshole, or making a positive outcome in the manhunt.
I arrived at the Jefferson City airport, and with a quick check of the most important points of the preflight, I jerked 90MP out of its hanger, and lit the fire. The control tower cleared me for an immediate takeoff, and me and the JetRanger headed northwest towards Ashland, as hard as the power settings would allow. As in most manhunts and searches, you're trying to look 360 degrees, all at the same time while listening to the patrol radio for any information about the manhunt. I was approaching Ashland from around New Bloomfield, looking up and down every road, for the description of the vehicle, when I heard that the chase was on, Southbound on highway 63. I cranked the Bell around and tried to set up an intercept angle to the chase, as it was progressing South on 63, and going thru the Hwy 63, Hwy 54 interchange near the Jefferson City airport. The chase continued thru the interchange and was Eastbound on Hwy 94, a two lane state road.
I was in a good position for intercept, and as I came over the bluffs along Hwy 94, I saw the chase. My God, it looked like an Obama Presidential escort: there were Jefferson City Police patrol cars in front of the suspects vehicle, and Missouri State Highway patrol cars behind it. I found out later that the asshole with the shotgun was riding in the passenger's side, while his girlfriend was doing the driving. He had just shot out the back glass of the Jefferson City's patrol car in front of him, so they were keeping a little space in between them.
I started to make low passes at the vehicle with the helicopter, my idea was to draw his attention to me, rather than the possibility of him shooting at innocent people traveling in the oncoming traffic westbound on Hwy 94. This seem to work, he would throw the shotgun up over the top of the vehicle, and blast away at me, but I kept my distance somewhat. I must have pissed him off good, because during a reload of his gun, he stuck his hand out and gave me the finger.
We proceeded along 94 Eastbound, going thru the small towns along the way. No one was backing off, including me, but we were approaching the hills and heavy wooded area east of Portland, and I feared, if they got into the wooded area, we might loose them. About that time, Grego came across the patrol radio and told me to land, and that, he and Mease would get into the helicopter with me. I put down on a levee along the side of the highway and they jumped in. Grego got into the front with me, and Mease jumped into the back with his sniper rifle. We took off, and much to my concern, the bad guys had gotten into the hills and wooded area east of Portland. Instead of going east on Hwy 94, they went north towards Readsville on Route D.
We caught up to them about a mile north of Hwy 94 on Route D. I was trying to hold the helio steady so Mease could get a shot, but sniper rifles with scopes don't work well in a helicopter. As I was coming around for another pass, Grego said he had taken another couple shots at us, and all of a sudden the vehicle spun out in the middle of the road and stopped. Everyone in front of the suspects' vehicle came to a stop, and the ones behind the vehicle came to a stop. We had them in a cross fire, surely they would give up.
I came to a rock steady hover, as much as I could, to give Mease a shot, and at this time the male suspect exited the passenger's side of the vehicle with the shotgun, ran around the rear of the vehicle, and kicked the female suspect in the head. Later it was determined that she had capped herself, and that was what caused the car to spin out and stop. Apparently he was pissed at her for killing herself, and thought a good kick in the head was worth it. Then he turned his attention to us. He wanted us, and here I am, at a hover, maybe 25, 30 yards, from the vehicle. Mease finally got a round off at him, missed, Grego was cranking out all 15 rounds from his 40cal Glock, while holding the left door of the helio open with his left leg.
This guy is in a cross fire, Jefferson City PD in front of him, the patrol in back of him, everyone is blasting away at him, and I'm praying, praying, someone knock this asshole down, he's dancing around like he's in hot grease.
I saw the 12 gauge, magnum, three inch shotgun, loaded with double 00 buckshot, positioned on top of the open driver's side door. I saw the asshole (some people would call him a gentleman, to keep it professional) get down behind the shotgun and take careful aim at us. No one has hit him hard enough to put him down: Mease's effort failed, Grego had emptied a full magazine and was groping for another one. Then I saw a bright orange flash, felt pressure blast past my head, and heard Grego say, he was hit, and hit bad. Mease came over the intercom, saying he was hit also, but for me to fly the airplane. Ha, he didn't want to die in a Helio crash. I let down into the field below me, and as soon as I touched ground, Mease bounded out of the rear of the aircraft in the direction of the suspect's vehicle with his rifle. We were NOT going to take any more rounds from the asshole! During the time of our taking the shot, and landing, the suspect had ran across the road and capped himself in the head, like his girlfriend.
I'm sitting there at flight idle, blood all over the place from Greg's wounds, and realizing that I'm OK, just a few plexus-glass cuts from the 00 buckshot coming thru the canopy glass. Everything looks good on the panel, and I'm telling Grego I can get him to the Columbia Medical center. However not really knowing just how badly he's hit, and with the possibility that 90MP could have damage that I'm not aware of, and him telling me, I gotta make a decision, I'm hurting bad, I shut the Helio down, and called for medevac out of Columbia.
We got Grego out of the aircraft, and moved him under the only shade available, an O'Missouri fence row cedar. I tore at his clothes, to see how bad he had been hit, I could tell it was his left upper leg, and in the area of his family jewels. I found a 00 buck shot laying on top of his shorts, and told him, he had a souvenir. He never lost consciousness. He laid there with Mease and I around him, and others who had finished securing the scene. Someone found a cell phone, and he was able to talk to his wife, Debi, assuring he was alright, which he wasn't. Nine entry, exit wounds in his left leg, and our fear of the femural artery being damaged or cut. I never left his side, holding his hand. A female first responder knelt down beside him, and asked about his back. Greg looked at her kinda puzzled, and told her, his back was OK, and she said she was concerned because she heard he had a hard landing. Greg looked up at her, then looked at me, and grinned, then said, "Haw hell, that's the way AJ lands all the time."
It seemed like hours, until I heard the sound of the Medevac Helio inbound from the Med Center. We loaded Grego up and away they went. I remember telling the pilot "don't hold the torque."
Mease came over to me, and told me to "come over here son, I wanta show you something." This guy is the biggest Trooper I've seen in awhile, and he put one of those big arms around me, and walked me to the helicopter. Lookie here. We had taken all 12 gauge 00 rounds into the ship, they went through the light metal of the fuselage like 30cal rifle rounds. He directed my attention where I had been sitting, and there ringed around where my head had been was four holes. Later I had the Highway Dept. photographer take my picture of where the buckshot went, and as I was sitting there and moving at her direction so she could get a picture of the shot, she got real quiet. Finally she said that no matter what position she had me get into, she could only get three of the four holes in the viewfinder. Well, one of the guys had an answer for that: "Hell, AJ, one must'a went thru one ear and out the other." That can't be true, I was looking right down the barrel when it went off.
Grego recovered 110%. He spend a couple weeks at the Columbia Medical Center, I tried to go see him every day. Mease was OK, he suffered a pretty bruise under his left tit, and if you asked to see it, he didn't hesitant to display it proudly (only kidding David, only kidding!) Grego and I got to go to San Antonio, Texas to be awarded the aircrew of the year award by the Airborne Law Enforcement Association. We got a trip, a nice plaque, and a couple neat eagle heads, trophy type. Greg said my eagle head should have been a buzzard head instead. Mease didn't get to go on that trip, but later on the patrol gave us an atta boy plaque and a nice award program at Capital Plaza, in Jefferson City. I figured the patrol would fire us or award us, it was great that they decided to award us.
There were a lot of opinions, I'm sure, about the action I took that day, and I can respect the pro's and con's, but the only thing that mattered to me was that Grego would be OK. He said it all with words I will never forget: "AJ, I would have flown it, just the way you did."
The 12gauge magnum 00 buckshot I found in Grego's shorts is now a necklace for Debi.