Memorial to Donald W. Downs

End of Watch: September 1, 1946
Rank: Officer, Badge No. N/A
Years of Service: 7
Age: 27
Location of Death: 7th Street and Main Avenue, SW



Officer Donald Downs was struck and killed by a drunk driver while directing traffic at 7th Street and Maine Avenue, SW. The driver jumped the curb and struck him. The man attempted to flee the scene but was apprehended.



Officer Downs had served with the Metropolitan Police Department for seven years. He was survived by his wife and four children.


Articles from the Washington Post – transcribed by Dave Richardson, MPD/Ret.


Hit-and-Run Injuries Fatal To Policeman

Fort Belvoir Soldier, Driver of Car, Is Caught After Chase

Patrolman Donald W. Downs, 27, of 424 15th Street, SE. was struck down Saturday by a drunken hit-run driver, died at 5:45 a.m. yesterday of a fractured skull at Emergency Hospital. He leaves a wife and four small children.

Flags on all police precinct station houses and bureaus were ordered at half-staff until after his funeral, in an interdepartmental order issued yesterday by Maj. Harvey G. Callahan, superintendent of police.

Downs was directing traffic at Maine Ave. and 7th Street, SW. at 8 p.m. Saturday, when he was struck by a speeding, weaving automobile. The driver, a soldier, was captured by Policeman R.T. Meyers in a foot chase after he abandoned his disabled car and attempted to flee.

Already Faces Six Charges
Police charged the soldier, Corpl. James Oliver Claire, 21, of Fort Belvoir, Va., with driving while intoxicated, unauthorized use of an automobile, driving on the wrong side of the street, leaving the scene of an accident after collision, driving without a permit, and reckless driving.

Claire is held without bail at Precinct No. 4 to await action of a coroner’s inquest, set for 11:30 a.m. tomorrow.
The tragedy climaxed a wild circuitous chase of 14 blocks in the Southwest Washington waterfront section, with Motorcycle Patrolman John Bush attempting to catch the reckless speedster. The driver, witnesses said, veered right over the curb where Downs was standing to avoid striking merging traffic at the intersection.

Joined Department in 1939
The dead patrolman attended Eastern High School and joined the police department in 1939. After a few months at Precinct No. 11, he was assigned to Precinct 4, where he was serving at the time of his death.

He leaves his wife, Beulah; a son, Donald W. Jr., 4, and three daughters, Barbara Frances, 7; Diana Caroline, 3, and Janet Marie, 2. His parents and three brothers also survive. Funeral arrangements are expected to be completed today.

GI Convicted of Manslaughter In Death of Policeman Downs

A District Court jury yesterday found Army Pvt. James O. Claire, 21, of Fort Belvoir, Va., guilty of manslaughter in the August 31 traffic death of Policeman Donald W. Downs.

The jury received the case at noon and returned the verdict at 2:35 p.m. Justice Henry A. Schweinhaut referred the case to the probation office for investigation before sentencing. The maximum for the offense is from five to 15 years imprisonment.

The Army has not petitioned the court for custody of Claire, it was learned. Unless petition is made before sentencing, Claire will be treated as would any civilian prisoner, according to Assistant United States Attorney John C. Conliff, Jr.
Claire, a blonde handsome youth, looked straight ahead as the jury returned its verdict. He had been indicted on a charge of second-degree murder, but the jury found him guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter.

In the courtroom was Mrs. Beulah Downs, the policeman’s widow and the mother of his four children. When marshals led Claire toward the lockup, Mrs. Downs bit her lip and walked away.

Justice Schweinhaut, in his charge to the jury, declared that if they believed Government testimony that Claire drove the car in a wanton and drunken manner, that act technically constituted the malice needed to sustain a second-degree verdict. The justice also said that since the car was stolen, the jury might find Claire was guilty of second-degree murder in the commission of a felony.

Claire’s main defense was that he did not remember the events of the night when his car after a chase by police struck Downs as he directed traffic at 7th St. and Maine Avenue, SW.

Conliffe presented evidence that Claire stole the death car from another soldier, drank heavily and when he heard a police siren, sped at such a rate that the car threw Downs 62 feet. Claire was represented by Attorney Robert I. Miller.



(NOTE: The Post apparently did not later publish the sentence imposed on the defendant, James O. Claire. This could be because Claire was turned over to the Army for punishment.)