On October 5th, 1983 Oklahoma Trooper Leon Bench was shot and killed on highway 97 north of Sapulpa.
It was a day that effected many lives and those effects continue.
In 1979 Leon had left public school teaching to become a Police Officer with the Sapulpa Police Department. I had been on the department for several months when he came on board. Working alongside him at Sapulpa I soon found that he possessed many good qualities. Not only as a great Officer, but as a person, it was so easy to become friends with Leon. As we chased bad guys over the next 2+ years, we learned that both of us aspired to join the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. Being a Trooper is all we talked about. We both applied to the OHP and we both were accepted into the 39th academy in April of 1982. After graduating the academy in August of the same year, Leon was stationed in Sand Springs, Tulsa county and I was assigned to Bristow, Creek county. Our two assignments were in side by side counties and we continued to work closely together.
In August of 1983, I arrested an individual for traffic and firearm violations. I didn’t know at the time; this person would soon murder my partner and friend.
On the morning of October 5, 1983, the air was cool, and the sky was clear blue. It was a beautiful October morning. Trooper Leon Bench was assigned the day shift in Tulsa County. After patrolling during the rush hour that morning, he drove to Sapulpa to have coffee with Trooper Kent Thompsen and Trooper John Wadlin. After his break, he left the restaurant and started north on state highway 97. Shortly after leaving Sapulpa, he initiated a traffic stop about a mile north of the city. During this stop, he attempted to place the violator under arrest, at which point, the individual retrieved a firearm from the bed of his pickup and began to shoot at Leon. Leon took cover at the back of his OHP cruiser, drew his weapon and was ready to return fire. While under fire, one of the violators bullets struck Leon in the head, he fell lifeless to the pavement. The violator got in his truck and left Leon to die.
This one event changed so many lives. Leon’s passing left behind his young wife Maryann and their three-month-old daughter Chelsea along with many family and friends. The death of a Trooper rocks the Oklahoma Highway Patrol to its core and is an event that we never forget.
This event was the catalyst for creating The Trooper Leon Bench Foundation. His sacrifice, along with the sacrifices of numerous other courageous Law Enforcement Officers commands us to continue to honor the many that have paid the ultimate price. Rest in peace my friend, we have the watch from here.