By Thomas Watkins
The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — Late in the night of April 6, 1970, the California Highway Patrol suffered its worst-ever disaster. Four young officers were slain in a shootout as they tried to apprehend a pair of suspects.
On Friday, almost four decades later, a five-mile stretch of the Interstate 5 freeway they once patrolled was to be renamed in their honor.
The notorious killings represented the force's single biggest loss of life at one time and resulted in a complete overhaul of how officers are trained to apprehend suspects.
"It forced our department to look at how we make approaches on any kind of stop," CHP spokesman Officer Vince Ramirez said.
The events of the night unfolded quickly: Responding to a call that a man was poking a gun out a car window, officers Roger Gore and Walter Frago, both 23, followed a vehicle toward Newhall, about 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles, radioing for backup along the way.
The car eventually pulled over in a restaurant parking lot; as Gore and Frago approached, a man sprang from the passenger side and shot them both dead.
Moments later, officers James Pence Jr. and George Alleyn arrived to provide backup and were fatally shot in an ensuing gunbattle. The assailants, Jack Twinning and Bobby Davis, fled and later barricaded themselves in a house.
Just before law enforcers stormed the property, Twinning committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. Davis was captured and ultimately convicted of four counts of murder, and is currently serving a life sentence.
All four officers were married and between them left seven children, the CHP said.
Frago's brother Donald Frago, 63, said he would be attending Friday's renaming ceremony along with other family members including his 85-year-old mother. Donald remembered his brother - one of seven children - as a quiet and gentle man.
"He was extremely kind," he said in a phone conversation from his home in Merced. "He always had a little grin."
Donald, who was in the infantry fighting in Vietnam when he learned of his brother's death, expressed frustration it had taken so long to memorialize the fallen officers in this way.
"This should have been done a long time ago," he said.
CHP spokesman Miguel Luevano said much of the delay could be explained because the agency only started renaming freeways for fallen officers about eight years ago. It also took time to organize the logistics of having the four families available at the same time, he said.
The CHP has already memorialized the officers with a brick tribute at its Newhall office.
Donald Frago, who drives tourist buses to Yosemite, said he had forgiven Davis but he could never forget what had happened. "If I met him one on one, I would ask him a lot of questions," he said.
The CHP said the killings triggered a complete revamping of its procedures, with the police baton becoming a more integral part of tactics and new protective tools such as pepper spray becoming part of officers' standard equipment. Training has also been vastly improved, the agency said.
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"If there can be such a thing as a silver lining in a cloud this dark, it would be the renewed focus on officer safety by law enforcement agencies throughout the country," the CHP said in a statement.