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One Hour Kidnapped survivor recalls how the OHP saved her life Photo by Hayley Imel


“That day happened to all of us and we’re lucky to be where we are. I’ll know Jay and Elise for the rest of my life,” Vasquez said. “I know that people think of us as the guys who write tickets, but that’s far from all we do. While that’s a bad day for a speeding motorist, it’s most likely the safest action we’ll do in a day.”


That's who we are Beyond the inherent dangers of the job, the OHP faces a series of other challenges. Smart phones have provided new means of communication for the population they serve, but motorists are using them while driving and the consequences are deadly. “Distracted driving is increasingly be- coming the cause of the accidents we handle,” Pettingill said. “At 55 mph, it’s amazing how much ground you cover. If you are texting and take your eyes off the road for 4.6 seconds that’s like driving an entire football fi eld blindfolded. That’s a huge problem.”


Like all Oklahoma governmental agen- cies, the OHP is also facing budgetary is- sues, and in June 2012, roughly one-third of the force will be eligible for retirement. Despite all the challenges, 2012 remains a special year. In conjunction with the 75th anniversary, the OHP will host its 60th academy, and Pettingill said the Concerned Oklahomans for the Highway Patrol Soci- ety—a nonprofi t organization that supports the troopers—will host a banquet at the Na- tional Cowboy Hall of Fame, beginning a new tradition of honoring the troopers at an actual awards gala.


Throughout the year, OHP will also orga- nize smaller get-togethers throughout the rural communities to connect with older, retired troopers who can no longer travel. “Through 75 years, fewer than 3,500 men and women have had the privilege to wear the uniform of the OHP trooper. That’s a small and special group of people,” Pettin- gill said. “We seek to honor them, especially the 34 members who have lost their lives in the line of duty, with this special year. More so, we seek to honor our state through our daily actions and our service. That’s what we do. That’s who we are.”


forts those 60, redefi ning minutes might have been her last.


O


On the morning of Sept. 19, 2003, Shannon Smith (known then as Shannon Haight) arrived at work early. The fall sun was topping the trees when Smith, a micro- biologist for Bar-S in Elk City, pulled into her parking spot. Her mind was on the day’s work when she spot- ted a young man—about 20 years old—in a silver Lexus, pulling into the lot behind her.


“There was no immediate sense of danger,” said


Smith, retelling a story that later received national at- tention. “The young man looked skuzzy with baggy pants but he seemed harmless.”


Smith asked if the man needed help, and he asked for directions to “Market Street.” Smith had recently moved to Elk City, so she was unaware of the street’s location. She apologized and directed him to the com- pany’s guard shack about 75 yards away. Smith turned to walk inside when the man grabbed her from behind and started moving her toward his car. “I thought I was dreaming,” Smith said. “This couldn’t be real. I tried to yell and wave my arms up and down. I tried to get away. Then he stuck something to my neck—said it was knife, and threw me in the trunk.” This seemingly inconsequential stranger was actu- ally Floyd Stephen Collins, who was wanted in connec- tion with kidnapping and rape cases in both North and South Carolina.


Smith heard the car engine rumble to life and the steady pulse of rap music began to blare in the nearby speakers. This was really happening.


Smith fumbled for her phone, desperate to call any- one. She tried dialing 911 but in her haste hit 411. With- out a lifeline to any offi cial, she dialed Mark Smith, her boyfriend of a year (and now her husband). “I just wanted to talk to somebody,” said the 40-year- old during a recent interview with Oklahoma Living. “It’s weird. When you’re in a situation like that you just want to let somebody know.” Mark was fi lling his car at a gas station. His typical day was about to implode as well.


“That’s a phone call you cannot prepare for,” he said. “My initial thought was get help. I hung up and called police. And then I couldn’t get her back on the phone.” Mark Smith bolted to his photography studio and called 911 while fi nally reconnecting with his girlfriend. With a phone to each ear, Mark Smith relayed informa- tion between his girlfriend and the 911 dispatcher who had sent out a mass alert to all area law enforcement including the OHP. Shannon Smith was able to relay the car’s color, make and model, as well as a general description of her abductor. “We all sort of calmed down,” Mark Smith said. “We were doing something and that was calming. When the car hit a gravel road, Shannon told us, and we felt like we were keeping track.” Then the car stopped.


ne hour forever changed Shannon Smith’s life. And if not for an Oklaho- ma Highway Patrol’s extraordinary ef-


Shannon Smith


hid her cell phone. When Collins opened the trunk, he was holding a heavy glass bottle—something the Smiths believe he was going to use as a weapon. He ordered Smith to roll over and face away from him. Fearing rape, she obeyed.


When Smith com- plied with her abduc- tor’s request, the cell phone slipped out from underneath her. Collins pan- icked, threw the phone in the ditch, slammed the trunk then speed off with such velocity that Smith could smell the tire rubber smoking (later reports clocked the car speeding at more than 100 MPH).


Shannon Smith


Collins wheeled the car around and headed back to- ward the highway when Shannon heard sirens. Mark’s call to 911 set off a series of events, which included OHP scrambling all units to establish and search a grid area around Elk City. Chance Husted, who worked on the OHP drug task


force, was fi lling up with gas when the call came in. In- stead of heading back to the highway, which he knew would be covered by troopers, he began driving south on backcountry roads—gravel roads.


Husted stumbled upon a silver Lexus and hit his lights. The car bolted, quickly outracing Husted’s suburban and speeding back onto the highway where trooper Paul Christian took over the pursuit in the OHP’s Camero, especially designed for high-speed chases. “I was afraid we were going to hit somebody,” Smith said. “We were driving on the shoulders. I started to brace myself.”


With his car running out of gas, Collins sped the Lexus onto an off ramp about one mile from the exit for Bar-S. The vehicle ran off the exit, fl ipped complete- ly over and landed back on its wheels. With the keys broken and the car damaged, OHP troopers had to pry the trunk open to free Shannon, who emerged with a slight dislocated shoulder and hurt fi ngers. Collins was injured more severely, having hit the windshield. One hour and fi ve minutes from the time she was ab-


ducted, Shannon Smith, her kidnapper and dozens of law enforcement offi cials arrived at the local emergency room. Collins was eventually convicted and received a 50-year sentence. Shannon and Mark married less than a year later.


The memory of one hour on Sept. 19, 2003, has faded but the Smiths’ appreciation for the OHP has not. “The key was fi nding me quickly and the only people who had the training and resources to do that was the OHP,” Smith said. “I truly believe that if it were not for their actions, I would not be here today. I am eternally grateful.” OL


FEBRUARY 2012 17 FEBRUARY 2012 17


Courtesy Photo


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