Families, friends, dignitaries gather for unveiling of signs dedicating highway to slain officers.
“The words Newhall and tragedy became forever synonymous on April 6, 1970” – read the program from Friday’s dedication ceremony for new freeway signs emblazoned with the names of four CHP officers killed in 1970’s Newhall Incident.
More than 150 people gathered in the parking lot of the Caltrans North County headquarters on The Old Road for remembrance and the unveiling of the biggest sign every produced by Caltrans. The simple sign bears a CHP badge and the names of the four officers: James E. Pence, Jr., Roger D. Gore, Walter C. Frago and George M. Alleyn, gunned down in a 4 ½ minute battle near Magic Mountain Parkway and The Old Road.
Before the ceremony, one of the signs had already been installed on the southbound Golden State Freeway near the Rye Canyon Road offramp; the sign being unveiled was bound for the northbound shoulder just south of Magic Mountain Parkway.
One of the honored guests never wore a policeman’s uniform; Gary Kness, a civilian who saw the gunfight as he drove along The Old Road and stopped to help, wounded one of the suspects with a discarded revolver he picked up next to one of the dying officers.
After shooting the suspect in the shoulder, Kness was out of bullets and ran to a ditch to hide. As officers arrived, Kness found himself at the wrong end of their shotguns and quickly explained everything he knew about the shooting.
“I try not to think of the incident,” he said. “But it has taught me that you don’t know what’s gonna come around the corner. I’ve seen my fair share of brutal incidents in the Marine Corps, but this one was by far the scariest.”
In his remarks, CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow asked Kness to stand for special recognition.
“You, sir, are an American hero and we’d like to thank you very much. You honor us by being here today,” he said.
“We honor four men who did what they wanted to do and made the ultimate sacrifice,” he continued. “But we made a promise 38 years ago that we would never forget and today, we’re keeping that promise.”
Officer Marty Forinash was on Lyons Avenue when he heard the help call come out. Hearing that officers had cornered one of the suspects in a house on Pico Canyon Road, he sped toward that location.
“The boys ran out of ammunition, that was the problem,” Forinash said. “This changed everything. We used to carry six-shot revolvers instead of the 9-shot automatic they carry now. This forced them to change their whole approach.”
Harry Ingold and Roger Palmer were one of the first cars on the scene after the gun battle, describing the scene as chaotic.
“This has had an effect on our lives in ways we don’t even know,” Ingold said.
“There was a big cloud of gunsmoke hanging over the scene,” he said. “We didn’t know who we were looking for or what exactly had happened.”
”We just heard screaming on the radio and put the pedal to the metal,” Ingold said.
“Remember, back in those days we had no bulletproof vests, no speed (ammunition) loaders, no walkie talkies,” Palmer said.
Both of the men were considered “old timers” with three years on the job and were serving as training officers even though their street time was limited. James Pence had ridden with Ingold and Roger Gore with Palmer.
A few years after the incident, Palmer left the force, turning to landscaping for his vocation. It was Palmer who planted four towering cypress trees in front of the old CHP office on Chiquella Lane.
Just before the unveiling, a representative of each officer’s family spoke to the gathering, thanking them for remembering and keeping their loved one’s legacy alive.
Perhaps the most poignant was Elyse Janine Taylor, daughter of Roger Gore.
”When I see his picture, it never hangs alone,” she said, tearfully. “I didn’t have just one father, I had four. Because of this, we are forever bound together. I’m thankful to the CHP family for everything they have done for me and my mom, and for letting me know I’m not alone.”