Pictured left to right: Trooper Brian Costanza, Terry Costanza, and Program Chairman Lion R.C. Morrow. (Photos by Dean Craig)
By Dean Craig Okmulgee Lion
Tuesday's Lions Club meeting was a long-awaited program by local OHP Trooper Brian Costanza, who talked about his role in bringing multiple-killer, Michael Dale Vance, Jr., to justice. When Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin gave her State of the State Address, she publicly recognized Trooper Costanza and the six other officers who were involved in bringing this fugitive down. Trooper Costanza was named Oklahoma Trooper of the Year, won the Southern Region Trooper of the Year in Phoenix (there are four regions), and got a trip to Philadelphia for the National Award, which was awarded to an Oregon Trooper, who was shot 12 times, with five bullets piercing his body. Regardless, Trooper Costanza is still #1 in our hearts.
Costanza was born in Tulsa but lived in the Twin Hills area, and graduated from Morris in 1996. He always knew from a young age that he wanted to be a trooper. He holds a degree in criminal justice from East Central University and worked for the Okmulgee Police Department for about a year before being selected to attend the OHP Academy. He stated that other than marrying his wife Terry, this was the best decision he ever made. Upon graduating from the patrol academy, he was originally assigned to Washington and Nowata Counties, then Creek County, and then to Okmulgee County for the last 10 plus years.
Recounting the final night of the week-long manhunt, Trooper Costanza stated that there had been several false-alarm sightings of Vance in various places. However, when a positive sighting of Vance in Western Oklahoma was announced, Costanza said he immediately began the three and a half hour trip to the area around Hammon. As Team Leader of the Tactical Team, he felt he needed to be there even though he hadn't been requested. He had previously shared all the week-long events leading up to this fatal night, even discussions with fellow troopers on what to do if they engaged Vance. Needless to say, Costanza was surrounded by fellow troopers who had the right mind-set, the proper training, and the burning desire to get this guy "off the road" before he killed more people, possibly fellow troopers.
When Trooper Costanza arrived in the area, the chatter on the radio from the helicopter and troopers on the ground indicated that Vance was going east on Road 830, exactly where Costanza was located. Spotting the pickup Vance was driving, Costanza joined the chase as the lead vehicle. Because of the drought condition of the dirt road they were on, the trooper said the dust was worse than driving in a deluge of rain. His only thought was, "God, don't let me crash".
He emphatically stated that God had His hand on this event because Vance turned south (to a paved road) rather than north to another dirt road. A road block was set up on this south road and Costanza knew he had to engage Vance before he got to the road block where fellow officers were, and knowing Vance would not hesitate to fire at them. Reaching for his bullet-proof vest and his M4 rifle, Costanza found it impossible to get his vest on, so, grabbing his rifle, he fired through the windshield, forcing Vance to stop his vehicle and exit, using the vehicle as a shield, all while continuing to fire at the troopers following. But Costanza put Vance down, probably saving more lives at the hand of Vance.
I'm reminded of Luke 4:10 that says, "For it is written, He shall give His Angels charge over you, to keep you". I have already alluded to the song by Alabama (in a previous article) that says, "Oh, I believe there are Angels among us, sent down to us from Someone up above". And we are so thankful that no one else was harmed. Thank you, ALL law enforcement for all you do to keep us safe.
On a related note, Lion David Fetgatter won the 100-year celebration glass as the 11th name drawn. The previous 10 names drawn, but not present, were: Barrett Corsini, Philip Wright, ShaVon McClanathan, Renee Dove, Mike Keaton, Richard Larabee, Jim McClendon, Lacey Azbell, Brenda Thompson, and Jon Giddings. We are still looking for a few more men and women to put their name in the "hat". Come join us. "WE SERVE".