Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Texas Seven Christmas

In mid-December of 2000, seven inmates escaped from the Connally unit ofthe Texas state prison in Kenedy, Texas. After a couple weeks on the run, they robbed an Oshman's sporting goods store in Irving, Texas on Christmas Eve, killing Irving police officer Aubrey Hawkins in the process before they fled to Colorado.

It was late January before authorities caught up with the "Texas Seven", five of them at a trailer park near Colorado Springs and the others at a nearby motel. Due in no small part to the Christmas Eve killing, their story had made national news, appearing on such high-profile outlets as "America's Most Wanted."Phone calls poured in on the tip hotlines, and soon the escapees could no longer avoid the spotlight. As the police closed in, one of the convicts committed suicide; the other six were apprehended and taken back into custody. All are currently awaiting their executions onTexas' Death Row.

I've thought about it many times -- how evil do you have to be to murder someone -- someone's father, someone's husband -- on Christmas Eve, the most pure and holiest of nights?

I've also wondered something else. I was at work the next day, Christmas Day, dispatching the Amarillo desk which included the former Ft. Worth & Denver line from Amarillo through Dalhart to Texline. We had a busy day going, with six westbound trains out of Amarillo heading toward Texline. However, no Trinidad crews were in position to handle the trains once they got to Texline. The Trinidad crews had all been home for the holiday, and a heavy snowstorm descended on southern Colorado and northwest Texas before the railroad could get the Trinidad crews in position. When the trains started arriving in Texline, all I could tell the crews was to tie 'em down and go to the motel. We parked one on #1 track, one on #2, and two trains nose to tail on the main. Somewhere along the way,we also parked two trains in the sidings at Guy and Perico, and since no crew limos were running, the last train en route to Texline picked up those crews.
Later, when I found out the Texas Seven had fled to Colorado, I imagined them driving northwest on US 87 through that snowstorm between Dalhart and Texline. Had they noticed the parade of trains as they drove slowly along in their stolen car, one of the few vehicles on the road during that Christmas Day whiteout? Maybe they heard a train whistle during a stop at a Dalhart convenience store for gas and coffee? Hell, they might have driven within a mile or two of MY HOUSE as they departed the D-FW area; I might even have passed them on the freeway on my way home from work on Christmas Eve. Sometimes -- even at Christmas -- evil lurks closer than we think.
I can't begin to imagine the level of grief the Hawkins family must have gone through during that Christmas of 2000. For my family, it was just another holiday. K's sisters were in town and her parents drove up from Arlington to join us for dinner like they do every year. Maybe my parents joined us for dinner as well, or maybe we went to their house for dinner a day or two earlier. Eight years down the road, I honestly can't remember. What I do remember is the Hawkins case serving as a sobering reminder of the preciousness and uncertainty of life, of the importance of never taking the people we love for granted, and the thanks and gratitude we owe officers like Aubrey Hawkins for putting their lives on the line -- 365 days a year -- to keep us and our families safe.
np: Throwing Muses - "Not too soon"
nr: John Steinbeck - Grapes of Wrath

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