Original Air Date: Monday March 25, 2002
"Close Encounters of the Third Kind" is a science-fiction classic in which passing UFOs cause car motors to die and headlights to temporarily dim. But more than Steven Speilberg's creative mind was at work here. The scenario was clearly based on a series of real-life incidents that happened four decades ago on rural highways in west Texas.
Nov. 2, 1957: Route 116, west of Levelland. It's just after dark and two farm hands are in a pickup truck. The driver, Pedro Saucedo, would later describe his absolute terror when he suddenly saw a bright light rise up in the field ahead. His motor died. His headlights went out. Both men jumped out of the truck and hit the ground as the flaming object shot over.
Saucedo went on to say that it sounded like thunder, that his truck rocked from the blast and that he felt a lot of heat. Once the huge object was gone, Saucedo's headlights clicked on and his engine easily restarted.
Saucedo's frantic call to the police was dismissed. They thought he was drunk. But within the hour there was another call -- different motorist, same story. Then a third call. And then a fourth. In each case, whatever it was killed the engine and dimmed the lights.
Newspaper accounts that followed chronicle a remarkable story. Before the night was out at least 15 people, including several police officers and local Sheriff Weir Clem, had encountered the huge disc-shaped object with the bright lights.
"Well, he just said he'd seen a thing that lit down in that pasture with lights all around. It come down and the it went back up as fast as it come down," said the sheriff's widow, Oleta Clem.
She says he described an object unlike anything he'd ever seen before. He also spoke about it to his friends, like retired college professor Nathan Tubb.
"In my opinion, there's no way he would fabricate or embellish something of this nature. He was an honorable person," Tubb said. "Too many people that saw it and too many honorable people told the same story … it turned their headlights off and their ignition off so the motor died."
The story got international play, competing for headlines with the Soviet launch of the first satellite, Sputnik. With all the witnesses and sworn testimony from several police officers, the government could not ignore it.
The U.S. Air Force did promise to investigate and sent a man to Levelland, but he spent less than 24 hours in town and only talked with a handful of the witnesses -- maybe six of 15.
"It was a very brief investigation into the situation and locals felt like they didn't give it enough attention," Tubb said.
The official conclusion: weather phenomenon of electrical nature, generally classified as ball lightening.
The problem is -- it wasn't storming.
"It was misting that night. I didn't see any lightning or thunder, or anything of that nature," Tubb said. "I can't buy that theory of ball lightning."
There's also the pesky problem of how it affected cars.
J. Allen Hynek, onetime scientific advisor for the Air Force's Project Blue Book, noted the complete "absence of evidence that ball lightning can stop cars and put out headlights."
In the meantime, Sheriff Clem was beginning to endure some ridicule.
"He just got so he wouldn't talk to them about it," Oletta Clem said.
"There was no doubt in his mind it was there. The car stopped out there. It would kill their car and then it would start," said Baldy Palmer, Levelland businessman and longtime friend of the sheriff.
Palmer has often wondered if the government was flying something it wanted to keep a secret.
"I don't guess people ought to know everything. Some things people shouldn't know I guess. I don't know ... what the government does," Palmer said.
Nathan Tubb is convinced what his friend, the sheriff, and others saw that night was not something the government could explain, even if it wanted to.
"Sometimes I don't think there's anything to UFOs and other times like this make me believe there's something out there," Tubb said.
KDFW FOX 4
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