Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 29, 2012
SALISBURY — Retired N.C. highway patrolman T. Frank Holman has stories that could fill an afternoon and keep going into the night.
I like the one in which he called in to report he was investigating a wreck involving 2,500 fatalities.
That kind of statement will get your attention, especially if you’re a reporter.
In that case, the victims were chickens, splattered all over N.C. 18 near Fallston when the truck they were being transported in went off the road.
Holman enjoys telling that one.
Over his career as a trooper, Holman had two presidents and six governors in his patrol car.
The presidents — John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter — weren’t presidents yet. In 1960, Kennedy had stopped in Shelby to make a campaign speech, and Holman ended up as his driver for part of the day.
Carter was Georgia’s governor, attending a national governor’s conference in Southern Pines when he rode in Holman’s car.
Carter told Holman to stop and see him if he ever were in Plains, Ga. Carter’s wife and the future first lady, Rosalynn, was with him that day.
Holman laughs, wondering what the Carters would have done had he ever shown up at their house in Plains.
“He was a real nice fella,” Holman adds.
The N.C. governors Holman “chauffeured” for included Luther Hodges, Terry Sanford, Dan Moore, Bob Scott, Jim Holshouser and Jim Hunt.
In a recent conversation with a visitor from Florida, Holman found himself reliving an event from more than 45 years ago — the day he captured the man who had killed the Burke County sheriff.
Holman quickly notes he had lots of help that morning, when 63-year-old Boyce C. Liverett surrendered to him.
It was five hours after Liverett had shot Burke County Sheriff David M. Oaks in a similar surrender scenario gone terribly wrong.
After Oaks was shot shortly after midnight on Aug. 22, 1966, Holman joined more than 200 law enforcement personnel who covered the region, searching for Liverett.
Thanks to a newspaper account in the Morganton News Herald, we know a little bit about how things went down that night.
Liverett, a fixer at the Henry River Cotton Mill, shot at Deputy Sheriff Joe Burns and wounded the officer in the right forearm when Burns tried to serve two peace warrants shortly after 10 the night of Aug. 21, 1966.
Burns’ injury was a minor flesh wound, and he stayed on the scene, waiting for additional officers. Once they arrived, there was an exchange of shots with Liverett, who refused to come out of the house he was barricaded in.
Oaks, a well-known still-buster in the area, eventually arrived after hearing about the shooting. His chief deputy, Alvin H. Wise, led a teargas assault on the house, leading to the decision to approach the home.
One deputy kicked open the front door and spotted Liverett lying on the floor under a cloud of teargas.
Deputies later said that Liverett shouted, “I give up, I give up,” as Oaks, who was carrying a pistol by his side, stepped toward the door, focused a beam from his flashlight through the entrance and told Liverett to come out with his hands up.
After starting toward the door with his arms raised, Liverett suddenly lowered his .22-caliber, semi-automatic rifle and began shooting in the direction of Oaks’ light.
He shot the sheriff three times. One bullet hit Oaks in the throat, one in the chest and a third in his upper arm.
Oaks went to the floor without firing a shot as Liverett ran into the darkness. Even at 63, Holman says, Liverett could run like a rabbit.
Deputies put Oaks in a car and sped toward Valdese Hospital, but he died on the way.
Holman was one of the highway patrolmen called in from three different districts as law enforcement started a huge manhunt for the sheriff’s killer. Officers went on a house-to-house search in Henry River.
Authorities eventually received word during their search that Liverett was hiding in a mill house rented to Paul Lucas, a new employee.
Lucas and his wife had been awakened at 4 a.m. by a knock on their door. They were unaware of what had happened earlier in the evening.
Liverett identified himself as “Boyce, the fixer,” and asked Lucas if he could stay on his sofa for the rest of the night because his nephews and some other men were after him.
Lucas agreed. When he returned to his bedroom, his wife informed Lucas that men were walking outside with flashlights.
Lucas called through the bedroom window, asked the men to identify themselves and was told they were with the Sheriff’s Department.
Lucas then relayed the information that Liverett was inside his house.
The newspaper account describes a team of officers mounting the steps to the mill house’s porch and finding an armed Liverett just inside the door.
Cleveland County Sheriff Haywood Allen took credit that day for seeing Liverett’s gun and instinctively kicking it out of his hands, telling the newspaper later, “I had the choice of kicking the gun or shooting him.”
Holman remembers maybe six to eight officers — he was the only trooper among them — going up to Lucas’ house on that morning just before daylight.
“He kind of halfway gave up,” Holman says of Liverett.
Holman also has a memory of Liverett handing him a gun, which he handed over to a Burke County deputy.
An Associated Press wire photograph circulated throughout the state the next day showed Holman escorting the shirtless and handcuffed Liverett to jail.
It wasn’t the only manhunt in Holman’s career with the highway patrol.
In one of his scrapbooks, a photograph shows him loading up a shotgun before going after a Shelby suspect hiding in the woods. He got his man that day, too.
A Korean War veteran, Holman spent much of his time as a state trooper with the Salisbury office. He also had stints in Shelby, Clinton, Hickory and Yanceyville.
He retired in 1982, still pretty much a youngster at 48 years old. Holman liked Rowan County the best of all the places he had been, so he established his Sequoyah Run Farm here long ago.
Holman says he is half Cherokee, and Native Americans like to count their birthdays from the first frost. Even though he was born June 4, 1933, and is 78 by normal calculations, Holman prefers telling folks he will be 80 in October, or whenever the fall’s first frost arrives.
Chickens. Frost. Manhunts for a sheriff’s killer.
Holman has the stories.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@ salisburypost.com.