Police officer and Highway Patrol trooper killed in OKC pursuit

Thursday, August 31st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Oklahoma City Police Officer Jeff Rominger, 42, killed early Thursday morning in a crash resulting from a high speed pursuit. Photo courtesy: Oklahoma City Police Department.

A chain-reaction accident involving a vehicle fleeing an Oklahoma City police officer in the wrong lanes of Interstate 40 left four people dead early Thursday, including an Oklahoma Highway Patrol trooper en route to another call and a police officer.

The chain of events took only about two minutes to unfold, according to audio tape police played of the Oklahoma City police officer's chase.

Officer Jeff Rominger, 42, was chasing a Pontiac Firebird carrying two people. He followed it up the off ramp of I-40 and down the outside lane for about 30 seconds when the car hit a tractor-trailer rig that had topped a hill, police said. Trooper Matt Evans, 24, responding to another trooper's call for assistance, collided with the stopped car. Rominger's car piled into the wreckage from the other side. A fireball lighted the night sky.

"Major crash. Major crash. Major crash. Start fire. Officer down....82. Start everybody," a canine officer who came upon the scene relayed to dispatch.

Police didn't immediately know what prompted the pursuit. Rominger, like Evans, had been headed to help a trooper with a possible drug stop. He told dispatch that he was in pursuit and kept radioing in his position. His last words were about the pursuit headed east in the westbound lanes of the interstate.

Evans and the two males in the car were dead at the scene. Rominger was taken to University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The two fleeing suspects were thrown from their car by the impact of the crash and have not been positively identified.

The heat of the fire left only charred skeletons of the Highway Patrol vehicle and the fleeing vehicle, and extensive front end damage to the Oklahoma City police vehicle.

Lt. Chris West, patrol spokesman, said Evans was not aware of the chase.

"He was just going to meet with another trooper that had a traffic stop at I-40 and I-44," West said.

The truck driver, Clyde Berry with Kelworth Trucking of Poteau, was shaken up but was uninjured, Cunningham said.

Commissioner Bob Ricks of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said that this was a sad day not only for Oklahoma City but for the state of Oklahoma.

"This was truly a tragedy because these young men were doing the job they loved when their lives were snuffed out," Ricks said.

Ricks described Evans as someone who truly loved his work.

"It was his lifelong dream to be an Oklahoma trooper," he said.

Chief M.T. Berry said that Rominger graduated first in his recruit class in June 1998. He had been a member of the Oklahoma City Police Department since January 1998.

Evans graduated from Choctaw High School and is survived by his wife, Jennifer. Rominger is survived by his mother who lives in Oklahoma City and an 8-year-old son who lives in Florida.

Rominger is the first Oklahoma City officer killed in the line of duty since Officer Delmer Warren Tooman was killed during a 1990 robbery of a south Oklahoma City restaurant.

Evans is the first patrolman killed in the line of duty since Trooper David "Rocky" Eales was shot to death during a drug raid at a rural home in Sequoyah County on Sept. 24.

The crash was the second deadly police chase in the Oklahoma City area in a week. Two teen-age girls were killed when their car went out of control, flipped into a culvert and burst into flames early Aug. 25 in Yukon. The chase had begun in Mustang where police tried to pull the car over after noticing erratic driving.

"This tragic incident should remind us all of the countless sacrifices our law enforcement professionals make each day to protect lives and property," Gov. Frank Keating said. "While most Oklahomans were asleep at home, these two officers were on duty in the early morning hours. They were doing their duty, and in this case that duty cost them their lives."


On the Net:

Oklahoma Highway Patrol: http://www.dps.state.ok.us/ohp

Oklahoma City Police Department: http://www.okc-cityhall.org/Police

Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Matt Evans, 24, killed in a chain-reaction accident early Thursday morning. Photo Courtesy: Oklahoma Highway Patrol.