Memorial to Robert W. Davis

End of Watch: January 1, 1940
Rank: Officer, Badge No. N/A
Years of Service: 8
Age: 36
Location of Death: 25th Street, SE

 

Circumstance:

Motorman Davis was chasing a speeding auto when the wheels of his sidecar lifted off of the ground, causing his bike to travel into oncoming traffic. He struck a vehicle head-on, causing skull, chest, and internal injuries.

Biography: 

Motorman Davis had a wife and three children. 

 

Articles from the Washington Post – transcribed by Dave Richardson, MPD/Ret.
THE DEATH OF OFFICER ROBERT W. DAVIS

WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED JANUARY 2, 1940, PAGE 1

D.C. PATROLMAN KILLED AS HE CHASES AUTO.

HEAD-ON CRASH TAKES YEAR’S FIRST VICTIM; 3 MEN DETAINED.
A motor cycle policeman was fatally injured yesterday while pursuing a motorist. It was Washington’s first traffic death of the year—19 hours and 12 minutes after the new year had arrived.

First fatal accident of 1939 occurred January 2 at 3:20 p.m. when a pedestrian stepped into the side of a street car from a safety zone.

Private Robert W. Davis, 36, attached to the Eleventh Precinct Station, died at Casualty Hospital 5 hours after his cycle had crashed head-on into a car as he raced uphill behind a coupe. Davis, father of three children, suffered a skull fracture, crushed chest and internal injuries.

Davis was the fourth motorcycle patrolman to die in the line of duty in the last 20 months. Raymond E. Grant, of Seventh Precinct Station, skidded on a sharp curve on Loughboro road northwest in August. Richard T. Conklin and Ernest E. Wessels, both of Sixth Precinct Station, collided with street cars in the spring of 1938.

Police arrested Royce W. Payne, 28, of 514 M Street, NW, as driver of the coupe, and released him in custody of a relative for appearance at a coroner’s inquest Wednesday at noon. James W. Belcher, 23, of 1014 Third Street, NE, whom police said was a passenger in the coupe, was similarly released.

According to police and eyewitnesses, the coupe had cut around another machine on Good Hope road near Twenty-fifth street southeast and sped up hill. The motorcycle policeman immediately sped after the coupe and cut sharply to the left to pass the intervening automobile. In making the sharp cut, the sidecar wheels of the motorcycle lifted from the ground, and the cycle crashed into a car driven by William F. Miller, 19, of Silver Hill, Md.

AUTO WAS AT STANDSTILL
Police said Miller was driving downhill and on seeing the motorcycle approach had come to a dead halt, so that his auto was stationary when the collision occurred. Miller was also ordered to appear at the inquest.

An eight-year member of the force, Davis had a foreboding of sudden death, a member of the family revealed last night. About two years ago, while attached to the Traffic Division, Davis was severely injured when his cycle was struck by a truck. Since that incident, he expressed fears that another such accident might prove fatal.

Only last November Davis, his wife, Alice, and their three children, Robert, 12, Donald, 7, and Samuel, 2, had moved into their own home at 334 34th Place, NE. The purchase was motivated, a relative said, by Davis’ desire to make sure his family was provided for in case of his death. At police headquarters it was pointed out that widows of police receive $60 monthly and $10 for each child under 16.

NATIVE OF VIRGINIA
A native of Staunton, Va., Davis entered the Army for a short term, married Alice Tyler at Newport News and came to Washington in 1931 to join the metropolitan force. A brother-in-law, S.S. Biddle, is attached to the Third Precinct station.
Popular with his fellow patrolmen and superiors, Davis several years ago captured a suspect wanted in another State. Maj. Ernest Brown, superintendent of police expressed sympathy to Mrs. Davis at the hospital yesterday afternoon.

MRS DAVIS STRICKEN
The fatal accident occurred less than two hours before Davis was to have gone off duty for the day. Mrs. Davis, recovering from pneumonia, was in a state of collapse.

Mrs. Ruth Tabb, Davis’s sister-in-law, en route to her home in Rocky Mount, N.C., after visiting the Davises, rushed back to Washington when a motorist at Petersburg, Va., recognized her auto and informed her of a radio broadcast telling of the mishap and requesting her to return to the city.

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WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED JANUARY 4, 1940, PAGE 16

JURY CLEARS THREE IN DEATH OF POLICEMAN.

CRASH KILLING DAVIS ACCIDENTAL, INQUEST DECIDES.
Robert W. Davis, 36, traffic policeman, who was killed Monday when his motorcycle collided with a car while he was pursuing another car, died “as a result of an accident while in the performance of his duty,” a coroner’s jury decided yesterday.

The verdict exonerated William F. Miller, 19, of Silver Hill, Md., whose machine Davis struck; Royce J. Payne, 28, of 514 ½ M Street, NE, driver of the car Davis was pursuing, and James W. Belcher, 23, of 1014 Third Stret, NE, a passenger in Payne’s automobile.

Witnesses testified that the policeman pulled from a line of traffic on Good Hope Hill in the chase of Payne’s automobile, and plowed into the front of Miller’s car in the 2400 block. Davis’ body flew over Miller’s car, it was said, and his skull was crushed.

Miller told the jury he stopped, unable to swerve because of parked cars, and waited for the impact.

Payne and Belcher were taken into custody at the Uline Ice Co., where they are employed, several hours after the accident. Both stated they were traveling between 30 and 35 miles an hour and did not know they were being pursued. Each testified he had two drinks en route from the ice plant to Alabama Avenue, where they made a delivery of ice.

Father of three children, Davis was attached to the Eleventh Precinct. He lived at 334 34th Place, NE and had been a motorcycle officer for seven years.

Funeral services were held at the Frank Murray funeral home, 741 Eleventh Street, SE, at 4 p.m. yesterday. The body was sent to Norfolk last night and it will be transferred to Portsmouth, Va., for burial today.

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A CORONER’S JURY FOUND THAT OFFICER DAVIS LOST CONTROL OF HIS MOTORCYCLE AND THE THREE CIVILIANS NOT AT FAULT FOR THE ACCIDENT.