Freeway renaming to memorialize four fallen CHP officers, two from Merced

LOS ANGELES -- Decades after four officers were killed in what became the California Highway Patrol's worst disaster, a stretch of the Interstate 5 freeway the men once patrolled is expected to be renamed in their honor on Friday.

"This should have been done a long time ago," said Donald Frago, 63, the brother of one of the slain officers, who planned to attend the event with his family.

Two were from Merced County: Roger D. Gore and Walter C. Frago.

Along with fellow officers James E. Pence Jr., and George M. Alleyn, they were gunned down in a shootout as they tried to apprehend a pair of suspects on April 6, 1970. All four were married and among them left seven children, the CHP said.

The notorious killings became known as the Newhall Incident and represented the force's single biggest loss of life at one time. The tragedy resulted in a complete overhaul of how officers are trained to apprehend suspects.

"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.

That night, officers Gore and Frago responded to a call that a man was poking a gun out a car window. The officers followed a vehicle toward Newhall, about 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles, radioing for backup along the way.

The car pulled over in a restaurant parking lot; as Gore and Frago approached, a man sprang from the passenger side and shot both dead.

Moments later, Pence and Alleyn arrived to provide backup and were shot in an ensuing gunbattle. The assailants, Jack Twinning and Bobby Davis, fled and barricaded themselves in a house.

Just before law enforcers stormed the property, Twinning shot himself in the head. Davis was captured and ultimately convicted of four counts of murder, and is currently serving a life sentence.

Ken Gosting, 60, a former editor at City News Service who covered the police at the time, said he'd had dinner with Frago and Gore shortly before they were killed. He recalled the two officers, both in their early 20s, being eager to pay their dues in Los Angeles County so they could one day return to where their families were from in the Merced area.

"They were both just down-to-earth, young guys," Gosting said. "They were just kids."

Frago and Gore came from Merced and Snelling areas respectively. Friends since their school days, they joined the CHP together in August 1968.

Frago's mother, Rose Frago, of Merced, said being a highway patrolman was what her son wanted to do, and he was doing what he was supposed to do when he was cut down that April morning. He left behind a wife, Nicola, and two daughters, Amorette and Gabrielle.

Gore left behind his wife, Valrie, and 18-month-old daughter, Elyse.

The CHP memorialized the officers with a brick tribute at the Newhall office. The agency started renaming freeways for fallen officers about eight years ago and eventually began organizing a ceremony for the four men.

The CHP said the killings triggered a complete revamping of its stop 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.