Troopers Describe Chaos At OSU Homecoming Tragedy
STILLWATER, Oklahoma - Oklahoma State University is preparing to honor the victims of the Homecoming Parade crash of October 24. They're holding a community memorial service at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
They will also thank the many first responders, including Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers on the scene within moments of the crash.
When the crash happened at the intersection of Main and Hall of Fame, four troopers were just a few blocks away. While they will tell you they were only doing their jobs that day, I can tell you, after sitting down with them, the event had a huge emotional impact on them.
These guys are like brothers, giving each other a hard time - but when a crisis happens, they jump into action, all business. But, they're not robots. They're affected by what they see and that was certainly the case in Stillwater.
Trooper Brian Conaghan was on the scene within 30 seconds of the driver slamming into the crowd.
"The shock and panic set in to everyone there, and when I first pulled up, there's 50 victims but 200 people running around screaming, not knowing what to do," he said. "When I pulled up, it was the most chaotic scene I've ever been on."
Most of these guys are veterans, have worked hundreds of wrecks, but none had ever witnessed anything like the OSU Homecoming parade crash. While they tried to help victims, control the crowd, direct traffic and clear a spot for helicopters, their hearts were aching.
Trooper J.J. Finney is fresh out of the summer academy, had only been patrolling on his own for a month, but his fellow troopers say he acted like a pro - even while seeing and hearing things most won't experience in an entire career.
"The one I remember the most is a small blonde child, a little girl, and she was hurt pretty bad and her mom had her wrapped in her arms, crying," Trooper Finney said.
They each experienced a split second feeling that the scene was overwhelming. The ground was littered with people, medical supplies, shoes, strollers, car parts, but in the midst of all that, Lieutenant Ricky Gunkel spotted a coin at his feet that said, "The world is a better place for caring people like you."
"I'm not preaching, but it hit me that God was there, and He put us there for a reason and I'm saying, I got this sensation that it's going to be okay," Lieutenant Gunkel said.
While these guys, like most in law enforcement, will deflect any attention for their actions that day, the people who were panicked and scared and saw those men in uniforms, those people will tell you, these troopers are their heroes.