Ten years ago, Oct. 24, 2001, was an eventful day at the Orange County Court House. That’s the day my late friend, constable Parker “P.T.” Thompson, who passed away Sept. 2, 2007, averted a potential court house disaster.

P.T. was standing outside the administration building when he spotted deputies running toward the courthouse, then he heard the shout, “Hostage at the Court House.” He rushed to the second floor of the Court House where a jailed inmate, Keith Wayne Gonzales, was holding court bailiff, deputy Carla Spell and another prisoner, Curtis Green, hostage in judge Pat Clark’s courtroom.

Officer Spell had just escorted the two prisoners from the jail when Gonzales overpowered her and took her weapon. There was a Texas Ranger in the doorway of Clark’s courtroom, a district attorney investigator across the hall, in the jury room, and several deputies in the foyer of the area. Attorney Sharon Bearden was in Clark’s office.

P.T. learned who the hostage taker was. He had arrested Gonzales in the 1970’s, when he was a teenager and involved in a burglary. He went to the penitentiary, got out and went back to prison. At the time he was charged with armed robbery and had been in jail 140 days. He had come to court to accept a 33-year sentence for the June robbery.

Gonzales had visited Constable Thompson after completing a ten-year prison sentence. He wanted P.T. to see his new red truck. He had learned welding in prison and was doing well. He had gained respect for P.T. for the way he was treated when arrested as a teenager. That wasn’t unusual; P.T. had a way with people and treated even those he arrested with respect if they respected him.

Because P.T. knew Gonzales he took over the negotiations for release of the hostages. He talked to the 41 year old about the past and about God and pleaded with him to let the hostages go. Gonzales released the inmate but held onto Deputy Spell. Thompson kept talking to him. He told P.T. he needed psychological help and had been trying to get it but couldn’t. He said he just couldn’t take it anymore and kept crying.

That shook Parker up but he kept reasoning with the hostage taker. Gonzales was hell bent on not going back to prison. P.T. pushed on and in about 20 minutes, Gonzales released Deputy Spell and surrendered after shackling himself to a courthouse bench. Gonzales had given Spell her .357 Magnum revolver that he had taken from her. He had fired it twice, striking deputy Faye Kirk’s lower left leg when he shot down the hall.

Officer Spell lost the cap to a tooth in the struggle when she lost her gun.

Attorney Joe Alford, who represented Gonzales and was due to meet him in the courtroom, said he was surprised at his client’s action. “Obviously he didn’t want to go back to the pen although he seemed to understand he had to. He didn’t seem angry, just afraid,” Alford said.
Constable Thompson visited with Gonzales after the hostage event. He said he just snapped, he was going to kill himself that morning and thanked Parker for saving his life. Gonzales was charged in J.P. Joe Parkhurst’s court with one count of escape, one count of aggravated kidnapping, assault on a peace office, first-degree felonies punishable by five to 99 years or life in prison.

On January 10, 2002, district attorney John Kimbrough, represented the state in judge Pat Clark’s court. Gonzales plead guilty to four felonies and Clark, following Kimbrough’s recommendation, sentenced Gonzales to four life terms. Today he is 51-years-old and will be a longtime resident in the Texas State Prison System.

For over two years Parker battled health problems and was in and out of the hospital. A few days before he died, my late friend Cal Broussard and I visited Parker at the hospital. He weighed only 90-pounds, but was glad to see us. He said, “Let’s get me unhooked from all this stuff and go outside and get a cigarette.” I said to P.T., “Those damn cigarettes will kill you.” He got a laugh out of that. He knew he had only a few days left. He died on the very same day my mother had, three years earlier.

I was privileged to give the eulogy at his funeral. I gave the boy from Abilene my best shot. He was only 59 years old. A John Wayne admirer he was never seen without his boots. He served a hitch in the Navy and two months after his time was up, he joined the Army and went to battle in the Vietnam War.

The Texas Department of Public Safety awarded Parker with a plaque that tells the story about the hostage situation. It is mounted on the bench honoring Constable Thompson that sits just outside the Court House. I’m reminded, on the 10th anniversary day, of a special guy, a friend I was privileged to know Down Life’s Highway and how he averted a potential crisis 10 years ago.