The highlight — and lowlight — of James Sampson's career as an Anoka County sheriff's sergeant came in 1957, when he encountered the three O'Kasick brothers, who were trying to avoid capture after killing a Minneapolis police officer.
Before the ordeal was over, Sampson would be shot and wounded by the brothers. Eventually, two of them would be killed in another shootout, and the third would be convicted of murder.
Sampson, 90, of Fridley, died Jan. 16 of natural causes.
Sampson's role in the saga came when he and his partner, Deputy Vern Gottwald, came across Ronald O'Kasick, then 24, carrying a gas can on a Forest Lake road and, not knowing who he was, offered him a ride to his car. Weeks earlier, O'Kasick and his brothers, James, 20, and Roger, 26, had stolen a vehicle, killed officer Robert Fossum and critically injured officer Ward Canfield, briefly taken two people hostage and then fled the area.
It became one of the state's most notorious crime stories, later covered in two books and in Lee Marvin's "Lawbreakers" television show, in which Sampson portrayed himself, according to his son Doug, of North Branch.
Ronald directed the officers to a different car, whose owner was nearby and yelled at them. Sampson and Gottwald arrested Ronald, thinking he had stolen the vehicle. Nearby, the officers found another vehicle in which the other two O'Kasick brothers were hiding.
The brothers opened fire, hitting Sampson in the leg, according to Sampson's son Doug. But that didn't stop him. He reloaded and continued shooting while his partner unsuccessfully tried to reach the station by radio.
When they ran out of ammunition, Sampson crawled back to his squad car to radio for help, according to an account of the incident posted on the Anoka County Sheriff's Office Facebook page.
As for Sampson, his partner drove him after their shootout to the hospital for treatment.
The three brothers escaped. But immediately, nearly 300 officers from across the state raced to Anoka County to search for them.
"It was a major deal at the time, when you have cop killers on the loose," said another of Sampson's sons, Dan, of Fridley. "Back then, the communication wasn't what it is now."
Doug, who was 7 at the time, saw on TV that someone from the Anoka County Sheriff's Office had been shot. His mother, Beverly Sampson, now 88, had no information about how badly her husband was hurt until she got to the hospital.
Four weeks later, Ronald and Roger O'Kasick died in a shootout in a small cemetery in what is now the Carlos Avery Wildlife Area in Anoka County. Moments earlier, they had killed a hostage named Eugene Lindgren. James, who shot himself in a failed suicide attempt, was arrested and convicted of murder. A year later, James killed himself with a butter knife at Stillwater prison, according to the Anoka County Historical Society.
Gottwald retired from the Sheriff's Office soon after the shootout, but Sampson stayed on for another 30 years, his family said. Beverly said she didn't have any qualms about Sampson returning to work, because he loved the job.
Sampson retired in 1986, after 34 years on the force. After Sampson retired, he was a doting grandfather and enjoyed fishing on Nokay Lake in Brainerd.
In announcing his death last week on its Facebook page, the Sheriff's Office said, "Anoka County has lost a true hero."
In addition to his wife of 70 years and sons Doug and Dan, Sampson is survived by another son, David, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Services have been held.