OKLAHOMA CITY — Fugitive Michael Dale Vance Jr. was the guy Oklahoma Highway Patrol Trooper Brian Costanza had been trained to immobilize.
On a dark, dust-filled rural county road on Oct. 30 in Custer County, Costanza played a vital role in ending Vance’s bloody crime spree.
Vance was wanted in connection with the slaying of two of his relatives and the wounding of two Wellston Police officers.
The 38-year-old fugitive had been on the run for a week before he was spotted.
“I was happy to be there,” said Costanza, 39, a nearly 15-year-veteran of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and Okmulgee County resident. “I was behind this guy, and I knew I had the ability to stop him. This is the guy you train for.”
‘I wanted us to be
on the offensive’
Costanza said he arrived about 9:30 that night at the command center in western Oklahoma. Shortly after, troopers were notified that Dewey County Sheriff Clay Sander had been shot and wounded. The suspect was driving a stolen truck dragging a chain.
Costanza grabbed his vest and put it in the back seat. He didn’t put it on because he didn’t want to get left behind.
He caught up with the vehicle but was not aware that shots were fired as Vance blew through a roadblock.
Costanza continued the pursuit, guided by a law enforcement helicopter that was about out of fuel.
Vance kept putting on the brakes in hopes that he would come in contact with Costanza’s vehicle.
Once he was able to confirm that Vance was the person in the vehicle he was pursuing, Costanza went on the offensive, knowing he could use force, including deadly force, to bring it to an end.
Video from his dash camera shows Costanza grabbing an M4 rifle from the backseat and firing it at Vance through the patrol vehicle’s windshield as he was driving.
“I wanted to put him on the defensive,” Costanza said. “I wanted us to be on the offensive.”
Vance returned fire from an AK-47 assault rifle.
Costanza said there were no houses around and no cars on the road. His goal was to stop Vance before the second roadblock.
The two exchanged several rounds of gunfire during the pursuit.
He said he was aware that it might have been the last opportunity for law enforcement to stop Vance.
After the initial shots he fired at Vance from inside of his vehicle, Costanza couldn’t hear the police radio traffic due to the impact the sound had on his hearing.
Video from the helicopter shows Vance slow down, exit his vehicle and let it roll back toward Costanza as Vance used it as a shield. The shots continued.
Finally, Vance went down.
Law enforcement continued firing.
“Down doesn’t mean out,” Costanza said, adding that he definitely was not going to take a chance.
When Costanza’s wife of 10 years, Terry, saw the video, she cried, he said.
The father of two young sons said there was no reason for her to cry because he was not hurt and his colleagues were safe.
“He didn’t get to kill anyone else,” Costanza said of Vance.
Costanza said he was not afraid of dying because everyone will die. He also was not afraid of Vance, he said. He was more afraid of not performing, resulting in one of his trooper brothers getting hurt and knowing he had not done everything in his power to end it.
“What better way to go out than protecting your brothers,” Costanza said.
When Costanza watched the video, he critiqued himself. He said he should have put on his vest and used protection for his eyes and ears. He hopes the video will be used as a tool to train others in what to do and what not to do.
He said all of those involved were blessed that day.
“It could have turned out a lot different,” Costanza said. “We could have gone to funerals.”
He has no regrets about his role in taking the fugitive down.
“I knew he couldn’t hurt anyone else,” Costanza said.
Looking back on that day and the publicity surrounding it, Costanza says he doesn’t want to be portrayed as boastful or better than anyone else.
“One of the best qualities you can have as a person, especially law enforcement, is humility,” he said.
Costanza was born in Tulsa and graduated from Morris High School. He holds a degree in criminal justice from East Central University. He worked for the Okmulgee Police Department for a year before joining the Oklahoma Highway Patrol in 2002.
He said he knew from a young age that he wanted to become a trooper. He says it is “the best decision I ever made.”
He is a member of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol’s Tactical Team and is a firearms instructor.
He returned to duty about a week ago.
Several other law enforcement entities were involved in the pursuit and apprehension of Vance.