Mike Clemons, a 16-year-old Pendleton High School student, was watching a “Starsky and Hutch” car chase on TV at about 11:30 a.m. on July 28, 1983, when he heard real sirens not far from his home on Southwest 18th Street. Stepping outside to see what was going on, Clemons saw a man dash out from between two houses across the street with a Pendleton police officer in hot pursuit.
“Stop that man!” shouted officer Don Arbogast. So Clemons did.
He first stepped in front of the fleeing man, who pushed him aside. Clemons caught up with him again in a neighbor’s yard and tackled him to the ground. Arbogast held the man at gunpoint against a wall until help arrived to take the fugitive, James F. Chaney, into custody.
Chaney and another man, Harry D. Earle, had escaped from the Washington Penitentiary in Walla Walla after tying up a guard and the instructor of an occupational auto repair class. The men stole an MG Midget from the prison’s shop, dressed in the officers’ shirts and used the guard’s keys to unlock the prison gates.
The escaped cons were spotted in Pendleton about 11 a.m. by residents who had heard about the escape from a Walla Walla radio broadcast. A high speed chase through Pendleton ended in the Albertson’s parking lot across from the Pendleton Round-Up Grounds when the Midget crashed into at least two parked cars. Chaney, the driver, bailed out and ran, and Oregon State Police Lt. John Duggan stopped the Midget from rolling into traffic with his own patrol car. Earle cracked his head on the windshield and was detained in the car; he had two artificial legs and would not have been able to make a dash for freedom.
Clemons was sent a letter of commendation by the Pendleton Police Department for his assistance in catching Chaney. He had no plans to play football — “That’s what everyone’s been asking me” — saying he preferred theater, soccer and Dungeons and Dragons. And he didn’t consider himself a hero.
“I think most people would have done the same thing if they were in my shoes,” said Clemons. “I just happened to be the one there.”