Ask Trooper Rob: Ceremony honors fallen Niles trooperPublished 9:57pm Wednesday, October 10, 2012
This Friday marks the 40th year since the death of Tpr. Steve DeVries, the only trooper to die in the line of duty from the Niles Post. I know I have written about this in the section, “In The Line Of Duty,” but wanted to write about this again, as we are planning a special ceremony.
Devries’ photo is in the lobby of the Niles Law Enforcement Complex and serves as a reminder there is no such thing as a “routine day” in law enforcement.
With the merging of the Niles and Bridgman posts, the photos of the fallen troopers of the New Buffalo, St. Joseph and Benton Harbor posts are also displayed.
On Oct. 12, 1972, DeVries, 32, was on his first day back on duty after a vacation. About 8:40 a.m., DeVries was patrolling in a semi-marked patrol vehicle on U.S. 12 near Niles when radio traffic told of a bank robbery at the First National Bank of Southwestern Michigan in Niles. A few minutes later, DeVries stopped a vehicle for speeding between Portage and Weaver roads.
The driver of the speeding vehicle was Kenneth Oliver, who was free on bond on federal bank robbery charges in New York and was being sought in connection with a bank robbery in Grand Rapids. Earlier that morning, Oliver kidnapped a former bank employee outside his home and locked him in the trunk of his car before driving the stolen car to the bank.
Armed with a .38 caliber revolver and disguised with gauze face wrapping and a football helmet, he seized a teller who had just opened the bank, forced her inside and stole $40,000 from the vault.
He then kidnapped her and, with the first hostage still in the trunk, drove from the scene. A few miles later, he abandoned that car and the hostages and left in his own getaway car he had waiting.
This is when he was stopped for speeding.
After contacting Oliver, DeVries went back to his patrol car and wrote down Oliver’s name and description.
He contacted the Niles Post, but there was no new information on the bank robbery at that time. He then went back and confronted Oliver, who was now standing between the two vehicles.
Oliver suddenly pulled out the revolver and shot DeVries in the chest, then fired two more shots in the trooper’s back and thigh as he lay on the ground clutching his unfired revolver.
Oliver fled the scene, abandoning his car in Bertrand Township, and took off on foot into South Bend, hiding the gun and money along the way.
In the meantime, a passing motorist who witnessed the shooting stopped and attended to the fallen trooper and alerted police. Within minutes, DeVries was transported to Pawating Hospital, where he was pronounced dead a half-hour after the robbery.
Oliver was sentenced to several concurrent life terms in the Southern Michigan Prison in Jackson.
In 1975, he escaped by hiding with other bags of garbage but was later recaptured in California and returned to Jackson.
He escaped again July 4, 1987, and was killed in December 1987 during a gun battle with sheriff’s deputies in Mississippi after fleeing from another bank robbery.
Join a special memorial at the Niles Law Enforcement Complex at 11 a.m. Friday, when there will be a special presentation honoring DeVries. A memorial wreath will be placed at the scene of the shooting by MSP personnel at 8:58 a.m., the time of the shooting.
On July 2, 1993, the Adrian Post received a tip that a stolen 1993 Ford Mustang was parked at a residence in Tecumseh, north of Adrian. Driving the post detective’s unmarked police car, Tpr. Byron Erickson, 36, went to check the area.
As he entered the subdivision, he observed the Mustang leaving, so he followed. Calling for back-up units with marked patrol vehicles to make a felony stop, the driver of the stolen vehicle must have observed Erickson and accelerated to flee.
While calling his location and waiting for marked units, Erickson continued the chase for about five miles. At that point, he came upon a slow-moving vehicle at the crest of a hill.
Avoiding a collision, Erickson lost control of his vehicle, which flipped and rolled over. Although he was wearing a safety belt, Erickson suffered severe spinal cord injuries. Trapped in the car for more than an hour before being extricated by the “Jaws of Life,” he was flown to The University of Michigan hospital for emergency intensive surgery, but he was paralyzed from the chest down.
The driver of the stolen vehicle was apprehended later that day in Jackson County. When confronted by undercover officers, he crashed the stolen Mustang into their vehicles before surrendering.
The suspect was charged with numerous felony charges.
Erickson, a Michigan National Guard veteran, succumbed to his injuries on July 31, 1993. Erickson, who enlisted in the MSP on April 24, 1989, was posthumously awarded the Memorial Medal and is buried in Van Creek Township, Wis. He is the 44th MSP trooper to die in the line of duty.
Eyes opened to reality
This particular incident was an eye-opening event for 88 troopers. At the time of the incident, I, along with other members of the MSP 108th Recruit School, had been at the academy for less than a month at the time of the crash. We were in training less than two months when Erickson died due to the injuries.
He was the first of seven troopers to die in the line of duty during my 19-year career.
Tags: Ask Trooper Rob