Fierce gun battle in Oklahoma ends with fugitive’s death
By SEAN MURPHY and GREG MCCUNE
OKLAHOMA CITY — A fierce gun battle with Oklahoma troopers left a homicide suspect dead and ended a weeklong manhunt for the man suspected in a string of violent crimes across the state, including the killing of two relatives and the shooting of three law enforcement officers.
After a tip from a farmer led authorities on Sunday to a camp site near Hammon in far western Oklahoma, the manhunt intensified for Michael Dale Vance Jr., who had posted two Facebook Live videos on Oct. 24 documenting his run from police, said Oklahoma Highway Patrol Capt. Paul Timmons.
Several troopers were chasing Vance, who was driving a stolen flatbed pickup truck, when the vehicle went off the road near Leedey, 130 miles northwest of Oklahoma City and 45 miles north of where he was last seen a week earlier.
“He exited the vehicle and engaged our troopers in a pretty fierce gun battle,” Timmons said. “It’s probably safe to say he (Vance) was hit more than once.”
Vance was pronounced dead at the scene, and authorities plan to release dashboard-camera video of the shooting during a press conference on Tuesday, Timmons said.
Earlier Sunday, Vance shot and wounded Dewey County Sheriff Clay Sander after Sander stopped a pickup truck to warn the driver about a chain dragging behind it.
“The driver of the truck stopped and exited the vehicle shooting an assault rifle,” said Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Jessica Brown. “The sheriff was shot in the shoulder and arm as he returned fire.”
After Sander managed to broadcast a description of the pickup truck, Oklahoma Highway Patrol air units in the area were able to spot the vehicle, and a chase ensued, Timmons said.
Sander underwent surgery Monday morning and is recovering from his injuries, which are not life threatening, said Dewey County office deputy Judy Junkins.
Timmons said the authorities were tipped off to Vance’s whereabouts by a farmer who spotted a vehicle in his field that matched the description of the car the fugitive was thought to be driving.
“The vehicle was covered with brush and tumbleweeds,” Timmons said. “It appears that he had been camped out there for some time.
“Apparently by the time law enforcement made it to the scene, he had already fled the area … so we started gearing up for a full-scale manhunt.”
Vance was wanted on multiple charges, including two counts of first-degree murder. The hunt began after he shot and wounded two police officers on Oct. 23 in Wellston, 35 miles northeast of Oklahoma City, authorities said.
Vance, 38, was suspected of shooting a woman and stealing her vehicle at a mobile home park near Wellston, then driving about 8 miles to his relatives’ mobile home in Luther and killing them.
Ronald Everett Wilkson, 55, had been shot and had stab wounds to his neck “consistent with an attempt to sever his head,” an arrest affidavit said. Valerie Kay Wilkson, 54, had similar neck wounds along with defensive wounds on her arms, the affidavit stated.
Just days later, Oklahoma County Sheriff John Whetsel indicated to the AP that authorities were at a loss as to where Vance might be, saying he “could be anywhere from California to Mexico to Florida.”
Whetsel has described the deaths of the Wilksons as a “rage killing” and said Vance had likely developed a list of potential targets connected to a pending sexual assault case filed against him. Vance had been scheduled to appear in court on Nov. 7 to face felony child sex abuse charges after a 15-year-old girl accused him of sexual assault.