Just before 7 a.m. on March 20, 2016, Pennsylvania State Trooper Kevin Holford was on his way to work in Everett like any other day when a call came in about an attempted robbery at the Fort Littleton Interchange off of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Fulton County. Holford wasn’t far away and was able to get to the scene within minutes.
When he arrived, Holford thought the suspect, 54-year-old retired state trooper Clarence Briggs, had left the scene. However, as Holford broke through the toll gate with his marked State Police vehicle, Briggs fired two shots in the direction of Holford’s vehicle. Still not knowing Briggs’ exact location, Holford spun his police cruiser around at the interchange, he exited with his AR15 rifle in hand and put on his body armor.
At that point, Holford still hadn’t seen Briggs. He said something caught his eye north across Route 522; it was a red van and a blue BMW. Holford then began making his way up the embankment toward the vehicles when two more shots rang out. At that point, Holford hit the ground. Moving on the ground, he went approximately 50 yards and began crawling up the embankment again. As he crawled, he could see movement and realized it was Briggs loading money into a BMW. Briggs, of the Newville area, had stolen the van that was used as a fare collection vehicle at the interchange after shooting and killing two men – 55-year-old Danny Crouse (a toll booth worker for the PA Turnpike) and 71-year-old Ronald Heist (the security guard who was inside the van). Briggs also threatened a female toll worker, Martha Berkstresser, who was able to escape and call for help. The driver of the van, Michael O'Keefe, was also able to run for cover when Briggs shot at him.
Briggs got into the van and drove a short distance to his BMW. He was loading money into his car when Holford spotted him. Holford was able to see Briggs’ AR15 hanging in a sling from his shoulder. Holford yelled “State Police,” but Briggs didn’t give himself up. Holford began firing at Briggs and the van, and Briggs attempted to return fire.
“He had pulled up his rifle and was viewing through his optic where I was previously standing. At that point, I knew he didn’t know where I was,” Holford explained. “By now, there was enough of him exposed that I could get a good shot. I fired one shot, and he immediately went down.”
Holford then secured Briggs on the ground along with the van and the BMW and immediately started administering first aid to Briggs. Trooper Greg Strayer arrived on the scene, also secured the area and helped Holford administer first aid. Their attempts had failed; Briggs was dead.
“This isn’t something you want to do, but as a State Trooper we’re prepared for all kinds of situations,” Holford noted. “This was the first time I had ever encountered a situation like this – I had been in some pretty hairy situations before, but nothing like this.”
Before March 20, 2016, Holford had never actually shot his gun while in the line of duty.
“I’ve had to point my gun at people before, but this was the first time I had ever shot at anyone. I’ve always said I don’t start fights, but I will finish them.”
In May, one of Holford’s fellow officers nominated him for the PA State Trooper of the Year award, and in June, he learned that he had been selected as the recipient. “I never expected to win anything like this, and especially not for something like this. You expect awards like this to be given for good works like volunteering your time at a school, or doing a good deed or something like that,” he said.
While he is very appreciative that he was nominated by his peers and selected as the recipient, he said it’s sad.
“The award is very nice and all, but at the same time, two people died. It makes it a little harder to accept because there were casualties that went along with it.” He said if it weren’t for Crouse and Heist fighting Briggs off and trying to stop him, he feels Briggs would have gotten away.
Holford stands by what he and his fellow officers learned while in the academy: “If someone fires upon you, it’s your duty as an officer to stop the threat; to save yourself, your fellow officers- your brothers and sisters, and the public. Upon stopping the threat, it’s also your duty as a state trooper to try and save the person.”
Holford was given the award on June 9, 2017, before his family, friends and fellow troopers at the Pennsylvania State Trooper’s Academy in Hershey.
PA State Police Commissioner Tyree C. Blocker presented Holford with the Commissioner's Letter of Recommendation and a ribbon. Strayer was also honored with a Commissioner's Letter of Recommendation.
“Today is a celebration of the exemplary actions and significant achievements of some very special individuals,” Blocker said during the ceremony. “The award recipients truly exemplify the commitment to service that is the cornerstone of the Pennsylvania State Police and it is my privilege to recognize their accomplishments.”
The nomination letter for the award reads:
“It was clear to Trooper Holford that Briggs posed a clear threat to himself and responding Troopers. Therefore, he challenged Briggs, yelling “State Police,” but Briggs ignored him and continued to transfer the money. At this point, Trooper Holford engaged Briggs, by firing at him with his patrol rifle.
While Briggs was not hit, it diverted his attention away from other responders and toward Trooper Holford. Then as Briggs came around the van with the rifle raised up to a low ready position, Trooper Holford fired several more shots, fatally wounding Briggs. Trooper Holford’s courageous actions no doubt prevented further loss of life and injury.”
Holford's wife, Katrina, hosted a picnic to honor her husband earlier this summer. Friends and family gathered for the event, in addition to fellow troopers from across the state. Holford said he is so honored to be part of such a wonderful brotherhood. “Once word spread of what had happened that day, I received texts, phone calls and emails offering words of support from other troopers around the state,” he said. “So many of them offered support and told me if there was anything I or my family needed, to please let
them know. The department as a whole was great and handled everything very well.”
“Great credit needs to be given to my wife, Katrina, because she has supported me taking advanced marksmanship and tactical classes, for which we had to pay for,” Holford added.
Holford is a 1993 graduate of Shippensburg Area Senior High School and the Franklin County Career and Technology Center. He was named Welder of the Year in both his junior and senior years.
After graduation, he joined the Navy where he became a nuclear welder. He also completed training in the Navy’s Search & Rescue Swimmer School. After spending five years in the Navy, he moved to California where he applied and was accepted into the California Highway Patrol. He was scheduled to begin attending the California Police Academy on Sept. 6, 2001, but because he had been traveling back and forth from California to Pennsylvania, and met his future wife Katrina, California was put on hold. He and Katrina married in 2004, and they have since welcomed a son, Lexton.
Holford graduated from the Pennsylvania State Police Academy in 2006, and as they say, the rest is history.