High-speed pursuit ends near Cromwell
Man who sparked manhunt was recently released from prison
By Ken Childers
A newly-released prison inmate was one of two suspects apprehended near Cromwell Monday morning after leading authorities on a pursuit that began in southwestern Oklahoma.
Austin Chace Burks, 31, and Jennifer Nicole Wilson, 36, were taken into custody following a high-speed chase that started just after midnight near Weatherford and continued for about 100 miles into Seminole County.
Authorities say Burks and Wilson were traveling together in a stolen car and the pursuit began when officers attempted to pull them over for an improperly displayed tag. Speeds of up to 120 miles per hour were reached during the chase, and at one point Burks allegedly fired shots at a Custar County Deputy’s vehicle, causing the deputy minor injuries from windshield glass.
The chase came to an end near Cromwell, when the vehicle being pursued ran out of gas. Both suspects jumped out of the car and ran into a wooded area. Wilson was apprehended quickly, but a manhunt ensued for Burks, which lasted several hours. Burks was eventually nabbed by Seminole County Deputies after authorities were tipped off as to his whereabouts.
According to Seminole County Sheriff Shannon Smith, multiple agencies, including the Hughes County Sheriff’s Office, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol (OHP), and the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics (OBN) provided assistance during the manhunt. An OHP aircraft as well as a drone provided by the OBN were utilized in an effort to spot Burks.
Burks was included in Governor Kevin Stitt’s prison commutation program and was released from the Lawton Correctional Center on March 27. He had been incarcerated there since May 2016 on charges of larceny of an auto, aircraft or other motor vehicle.
Paul Smith, District Attorney for Hughes, Pontotoc and Seminole County, expressed frustration over Burks’ recent commutation, labeling Stitt’s actions in the process as “reckless.”
“In short, it is befuddling to understand how, in the pursuit of the governor’s pledge to make Oklahoma a top ten state, such individuals can even be considered for commutation as recommended by the pardon and parole board, or that we should accept that the governor might consider commuting a sentence like these to ‘time served’ as we are told has been done at times when the P&P board recommends a commutation,” Smith said.
“The same does not begin to approach any statutory threshold for consideration. The entire process upsets and disturbs the lives of numerous crime victims and families whose lives have been wrecked by the scourge of meth thrust upon them by big time drug dealers and the property offenses that their clandestine businesses heavily contribute to. It frustrates law enforcement and further drains police and prosecution limited resources to have to chase down offenders like these, of course at their own peril as indicated by the facts in many of these cases, where the public and police have been harmed, criminally re-victimized, and have to re-process these same offenders over again and again because of the reckless actions of the governor and his appointees to the P&P Board releasing individuals from proper sentences for their crimes,” Smith added.
“The present commutation process diverts trial officials and law enforcement officers from pressing business to once again have to dig through decades old files, re-interview those involved, and re-advocate for decisions properly made years ago by those charged with the responsibilities of the administration of justice and politically held accountable for their decisions in the criminal justice system,” Smith stated.
“These applications for commutation and the abuse of the commutation process as ‘an early release mechanism’ for which it is being used is improper and should not be considered by the governor’s office. As indicated by law and the P&P Board’s own policies, a commutation is a substitution of a lesser incarceration term for a greater one or a modification or reduction of a punishment. Commutation is not intended to serve as an early release mechanism. A commutation is intended to correct an unjust or excessive sentence,” Smith concluded.
According to court and Department of Corrections records, Burks has a lengthy rap sheet. He was charged in 2009 with escaping from a correctional facility in Oklahoma. Other past charges include possession of stolen vehicle, knowingly concealing stolen property, grand larceny, eluding/attempting to elude police office and driving with a cancelled/suspended/revoked license. He has also faced drug-related and bogus check charges.
Burks and Wilson were both booked into the Seminole County Jail on Monday, where they were being held without bond. Additional charges in other counties are pending.