Paoli’s assistant police chief James Caskey knows better than most that once you pin on a badge, you’re never really off duty.
Which explains how Caskey came to receive a Medal of Valor from the Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police.
It was March 27 and lawman and felon were about to cross paths on Interstate-35.
The felon, David Hammock had just escaped from the Lexington Correctional Center, making his getaway in a stolen Department of Corrections van and turning south when he reached the interstate.
Caskey was also southbound, driving his personal vehicle, a pickup, when he spotted the van.
On May 21, Paoli Police Chief Johnny Turner wrote an account of what followed in his nomination of Caskey for the medal.
“Asst. Chief Caskey because of his corrections background knew something was wrong about the driver of the corrections van,” Turner wrote, pointing out Caskey’s observation that only correction officers would do.
“He also observed that the driver was wearing a gray t-shirt, something corrections staff would not do since gray is the color assigned to inmates of the Oklahoma Department of Corrections,” he continued.
Caskey also noticed that the driver was unshaven with a “very noticeable un-groomed beard.”
Then there was the fact that the van was moving at an unusually slow pace and that the driver appeared to be hiding himself as much as possible.
It just didn’t add up.
He called the Department of Corrections, describing the van and driver, and was told it probably wasn’t anything to be concerned about.
But with more suspicions that the driver was an escaped prisoner, Caskey next called the Oklahoma Highway Patrol to see if they would make contact with the van and verify that the driver was a lawful occupant.
When he lost contact with OHP, Caskey called the DOC again and was told no one had time to talk to him because there had been a possible escape.
As the two vehicles neared the Paoli exit, Caskey called Turner and asked if he would try to stop the van. Turner also notified other Garvin County law enforcement officers, asking for assistance.
Sheriff’s deputies tried to pull the van over near Pauls Valley. Hammock evaded capture and the subsequent chase reached speeds of more than 90 mph.
Hammock steered around stop sticks and a tractor-trailer driver even tried without success to force him off the road.
Finally, at mile marker 41, the chase ended.
“Two troopers parked on the side of the road in an attempt at traffic control,” Turner wrote, “with three more OHP units stationed three miles down the highway for another roadblock.”
Hammock tried to steer the van between two cars traveling about 65 mph. Instead, the van hit one car, left the highway and slammed into an OHP car parked on the grass. The impact totaled both the OHP car and the van.
“Asst. Chief Caskey made several attempts to notify the proper authorities and when no action was taken, he kept after notifications until he got a proper response,” Turner wrote.
The chase had covered approximately 63 miles.
At the time of the escape, Hammock was serving four years for a burglary conviction and 17 years for arson.
“Inmate Hammock displayed great desperation in his attempt to escape and ... likely would have evaded authorities and went on to injure or kill members of the public” had Caskey not intervened while on a day off, Turner concluded.