BY RICHARD L. FRICKER
One reason people get into journalism is the consistently inconsistent. So it was last week when, after a leisurely late lunch with colleague Ray Pearcey at The Tulsa Press Club, what was to have been a slow drive through the city ended in a full-blown police chase as two of society’s lost souls died violently on the streets in one of Tulsa’s more posh neighborhoods.
Information is still trickling in as to what brought Roy Hanthorn, 36, and Rhiannon Vantassell, 32, both from the Colorado Springs, CO, to Tulsa. What is known: they ran from Tulsa police and federal marshall from a location on the near north side of downtown in a car stolen from Colorado, carjacked a second vehicle at 1st and Elgin and sped off into what would be for them, oblivion.
The entire episode lasted less than an hour from the time the two began their sprint for freedom to the time Vantassell’s body was laid out on one of the manicured lawns at 30th and Utica, a neighborhood with houses whose size often call to mind ships of the line rather than family dwellings. Police officers covered her with a yellow tarp as Hanthorn was pulled dying from their stolen and wrecked car straddling a curb opposite Vantassell.
It was now 4 o’clock and traffic was starting to back up northward on Utica – the intersection at 31st blocked. The afternoon jaunt home was going to be a problem for some folks. But not for Vantassell and Hanthorn; they were being transport free, cost to the city.
It might be noted that 24 hours earlier the Pikes Peak Regional law enforcement collaborative had placed the pair on their “most wanted” list. Mention Colorado Springs and a lot of people think of Pikes Peak, the Garden of the Gods, Air Force Academy or even the highly conservative Focus on the Family, but not many think of most wanted villains.
And frankly, if this pair constitutes what area law enforcement view as most dangerous, the good citizens of Colorado Springs and surrounding Pikes Peak area can sleep well. Make no mistake, they were criminals. They just weren’t very good or exciting criminals.
Their forte seems to have been burglary, some auto theft and drug possession. Conjures up the question: how stupid to you have to be to get busted for drugs in Colorado, where marijuana is legal?
Both had broken parole. Vantassell had also abandoned her daughter to be with Hanthorn, according to Facebook postings by her mother. It is believed they “absconded,” according to Colorado authorities, in February using a car stolen in Colorado.
Vantassell, again according to the mother, had mentioned coming back and trying to square things with authorities. Hanthorn, however, told Vantassell’s family he would never go back Colorado alive.
Shortly after being placed on the most wanted list Colorado law enforcement notified Tulsa police and the U.S. Marshals of the fugitives location. The game, as once said, was afoot.
For reasons known only to Hanthorn, after attempting to elude officers, he headed south on Utica from 21st. Utica police and marshals’ cars lit up Utica for nearly 30 blocks – flashing lights and the wail and warble of sirens cut through the afternoon traffic as motorists pulled aside and executed some very interesting maneuvers to avoid what Pearcey counted to be 40 police cars. His count didn’t include fire engines, ambulances and, eventually, press vehicles.
All of these cars converged on Utica as it became obvious for Hanthorn and Vantassell there would be no escape. Police officers recounted watching to pair talk.
Then, at about 27th Street, for Vantassell it was over as Hanthorn drew his weapon and fired. One shot into her head and she was dead, her chase had ended.
A few blocks later their car began to slow, hit an oncoming car slightly and stopped. Hanthorn had kept his promise; he was not going back alive.
What had been a pursuit was now a crime scene as officers and emergency personnel converged on the car. Officers began stringing crime scene tape around the area as onlookers from the neighborhood and reporters made their way to the intersection.
Crime scenes are interesting. Everyone has a role to play: police, emergency responders and even reporters. They are much more formalized than 40 years ago. Back then if you knew someone at the scene you might get a heads-up or a tidbit another reporter might miss, or the competition might beat you if they had a better or more informed friend.
Today everyone is behind the crime scene tape and there is usually a briefing where everyone gets the same message at the same time. Most of all you are supposed to follow the rules.
The police make the rules, and they enforce the rules. They have handcuffs and guns to make the rules stick. Most editors don’t like to have problems with the blue. The occasional tweaking might be permitted, as long as you manage to pluck some blue feathers in the process.
Most of the reporters either know or have heard of each other or the news outlet. Because everyone knows there will be a briefing sooner or later the object of being at the scene is to gather enough information to ask intelligent questions. No one, reporter or police, likes briefing time taken up by someone who can’t keep up.
For that reason reporters often talk to each other and exchange information, unless they think they have something really hot that they can keep under wraps until the story is filed. Electronic media is always filing, that is why they are always revising – their editors want a story NOW. Anything wrong can be corrected on the fly.
This particular day a young woman working for a local television outlet was on hand. She let it be known she had been riding with a police officer when the story broke, which might have explained why she was dressed as if going to a Margarita tasting rather than pounding a news beat.
I asked a couple of questions about what she may have found out. She attempted to avoid answering using what might best be described as “cop talk.” “I can’t say because I don’t know for sure, etc.”
“Well is the guy in the car dead or not, yes or no, it’s simple – you know a dead body when you see one.”
“I’m a reporter,” she said.
“So am I,” I said, holding back further retorts. Pearcey thought it best I had kept my remarks to myself; I thought it damn courageous.
Deputy Chief Dennis Larson delivered the briefing. Murder-suicide, out of state felons fleeing arrest warrants, no shots fired by officers was the short and exact version. Everyone was going to make deadline, the streets were opening so the Mercedes, Volvos, BMWs and Lexus drivers could make it home without being too late for the pre-dinner toddy and evening news.
There will always be unanswered questions about the chase. Too many cars? Was the chase even necessary? Were major portions of the city left unprotected?
Reasonable questions and equally reasonable to believe there will be an after action review, which the public may or may not ever see.
The Vantassell-Hanthorn conversation as they neared 27th street? Was that a Thelma and Louise moment? Did she see it coming? What was she thinking as he pulled the trigger? Did she think about her mother and the daughter about to be orphaned?
Or did Hanthorn just decide he was going and her life would be meaningless without him so he sent her first to scout the hereafter.
The only people who can answer those questions took the answers with them that afternoon at 30th and Utica.
Many times in the journalism game it’s what you don’t see that brings an event into focus. Almost exactly 24 hours later I found myself at the intersection of death.
The black and brown gardeners continued to manicure the lawns, just as they had done the day before. Whatever was happening was not their business. They had learned early not to get too near a badge in rich Anglo territory.
Unless you had been there the day before, been there and seen the bodies, the cops, the reporters, you would not know anything had happened. The lawns were pristine. The traffic flowed.
There were no flowers on the lawn where Rhiannon Vantassell had been laid as police investigated her murder at the hands of lover Roy Hanthorn. There was no wreath where Hanthorn lurched into his final four-hour struggle for life after shooting himself.
Passing through the intersection my mind flashed the day before. I realized how many of these scenes I had encountered since taking up this holy work – the flashing lights, sirens, lamentations.
As I rounded the curve and the image faded I thought about the orphaned daughter and distraught mother. That will be a day forever remembered.
For the cops, responders, reporters, and myself in particular … it was just another day at the office.
– Richard L. Fricker lives in Tulsa, OK, and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer. His latest book, The Last Day of the War, is available at https://www.createspace.com/3804081 or at www.richardfricker.com.