Memorial to Ronnie W. Hassell

End of Watch: December 2, 1972
Rank: Officer   Badge No. 2615
Age: 20   Years of Service: 1 year
Location of Death: 29th and M streets, NW
Duty Assignment: 2nd District Substation

 

Circumstance:  

Officer Ronnie Hassell was killed when his motor scooter was struck by a hit-and-run driver at 29th and M streets, NW. He received major head injuries when his helmet was knocked off of his head. The suspect was arrested the following day at his home in Arlington, Virginia.

 

Biography:

A native of Washington, N.C., Hassell lived in District Heights, with his wife, Charlotte, and a 15-month-old child. Hassell joined the police force in July 1971 as a police cadet and became an officer in December of 1971. During his 11 months on the force, he was assigned to scooter duty at the second district substation at 3218 Volta Pl. NW.

 

Articles from the Washington Post – transcribed by Dave Richardson, MPD/Ret.
THE HIT-AND-RUN DEATH OF OFFICER RONNIE W. HASSELL ON DECEMBER 2, 1972.
WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED DECEMBER 3, 1972, PAGE D1
Hit-Run Crash Kills Policeman
A 20-year-old metropolitan policeman died at George Washington University Hospital yesterday nine hours after his motor scooter was struck in a hit-and-run accident in Georgetown.

Officer Ronnie W. Hassell who had been a member of the police force for 11 months, died at 2 p.m. as a result of head injuries he suffered when he lost his helmet during the accident.

Early yesterday afternoon, investigators from the hit-and-run division of the police traffic division reported that they had located a 1961 black over white Ford in Alexandria that could have been involved in the accident.

There have been no arrests in the case, but police described the suspect as a young white male with brown shoulder-length hair and wearing a brown jacket with a thick wool collar.

According to police, Hassell was struck as his scooter crossed the intersection of 29th and M Streets NW headed south on 29th Street. They said the car, traveling east on M Street, ran the red light at a high speed, struck Hassell and continued east on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Hassell’s death was the first of an officer assigned to motor scooter duty since the scooters were introduced in 1966. There are more than 200 motor scooters being used by the police department.

Hassell joined the police force in July 1971 as a police cadet and became an officer in December of last year. During his 11 months on the force he was assigned to scooter duty at the second district substation at 3218 Volta Pl. NW.

A native of Washington, N.C., Hassell lived in District Heights, with his wife, Charlotte, and a 15-months-old child.

 

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WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED DECEMBER 4, 1972, PAGE C1
Man Held In Death Of Officer
Alexandrian Charged With Manslaughter
A 32-year-old Alexandria man is being held in Alexandria on a manslaughter charge in the hit-and-run death of Washington scooter patrolman Ronnie W. Hassell early Saturday, metropolitan police said yesterday.

The said William Edward Sholes, 300 W. Glebe Rd., was arrested yesterday in Alexandria on fugitive charges stemming from the incident and is being held in Alexandria jail pending an extradition hearing this morning.

Sholes is accused of running down the 20-year-old policeman at 29th and M Streets NW around 4:30 a.m. Saturday.

Witnesses said a black and white 1961 Mercury ran a red light eastbound on M Street as Hassell was driving south across the intersection, struck the officer broadside, and sped away.

Hassell, the first scooter officer to be killed since the patrol was initiated in 1966, died from head injuries nine hours later at George Washington University Hospital.

When an Alexandria policeman later discovered the alleged hit-and-run car parked in front of 4007 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria, the owner told police that he had lent it to Sholes, who was arrested at 5:45 a.m. yesterday.

Alexandria police said Sholes, who is married and has one child, has an arrest record spanning more than a decade for minor crimes in Northern Virginia. In 1962 he and four other men escaped from the Alexandria jail, where he was being held for possession of stolen drugs. They were soon recaptured.

Hassell, who graduated from police cadet school last April, walked a beat in Georgetown, and was assigned to scooter patrol there more than a month ago.

“He liked being a policeman,” his wife Charlotte, 20, said yesterday. “He really did, because he was able to be out on his own, knowing he wouldn’t be doing the same thing every day. And he liked his scooter—he said it was much better than walking.”

The Hassell’s lived with their 15-month-old daughter Tamira in a two-bedroom, third-floor walk-up apartment in an apartment complex in District Heights. They moved to Washington early in 1971 from New Jersey, where he had applied to the Newark police force, only to be told that it was filled.

Sitting in her darkened apartment, her face puffy with weeping, Mrs. Hassell, a nurse’s assistant at Cafritz Hospital, greeted a flow of relatives and neighbors and recalled for a reporter her life with her husband.

They had both grown up on farms outside Williamston, N.C., she said, he was fifth son of a vegetable grower with 185 acres and she one of nine children of a sharecropper. When their 80-member class graduated from high school they were among the third who moved away to look for jobs.

“Ronnie wanted to be a policeman,” Charlotte’s uncle, Raleigh Jones, said yesterday, “but there was no opportunity in the south—it was out of the question (for a black man). His father wanted him to be a farmer, but Ronnie wanted to be more than that.”

The Hassell’s were married here in April, 1971, and after a four month stint as a driver for a furniture company Ronnie joined the force.

Horace Lindsay, a station clerk at fourth district headquarters who went through the academy with him and became his best friend, says Hassell was a “jolly but quiet type of guy who stayed home mostly. All he wanted to do was make a living and come home to his wife. He never talked about getting any other type of job. He was a 20-year man—no doubt.”

 

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WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED DECEMBER 5, 1972, PAGE C7
Scooter Patrolman Hurt in Crash With Bus
A Washington scooter patrolman was injured yesterday in a collision with a D.C. Transit bus. The officer was the second police scooter rider involved in an accident in three days.

Special operations division Officer R.C. Mormon, 27, was treated at the Washington Hospital Center for knee and facial injuries after he was knocked off his scooter in a collision with a bus shortly after noon at 2nd and H Streets NW.

Police charged the bus driver, Curtis L. Disharoon, 55, of Clinton, Md., with failing to the yield right of way.

Another scooter policeman, Ronnie W. Hassell, 20, was killed early Saturday morning in a hit-and-run accident at 29th and M Streets NW. Hassell was the first patrolman killed since the patrol was started in 1966.

The driver charged with manslaughter in Hassell’s death, William E. Sholes, 32, of 300 W. Glebe Road, Alexandria, was being held without bond in Alexandria jail last night after he refused to waive extradition to the District of Columbia in municipal court proceedings.

Witnesses to the Saturday accident said an automobile ran a red light eastbound on M Street, struck Hassell broadside and sped away.

Police officials yesterday said that last year there were 85 accidents involving the department’s 350 scooters, with six officers injured seriously and none killed. During the same period, 26 of the department’s motorcycles were involved in accidents, with no fatalities.

Some police officials have complained that scooter patrolmen should undergo more thorough training, and that the machines should be more brightly painted for night driving.

Police Chief Jerry V. Wilson has credited the scooter patrol force with contributing significantly to the reduction of crime in the District.

A memorial service for Hassell will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday at Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, 1138 6th Street NE, with a funeral service scheduled for 2:30 p.m. in Williamston, N.C., his hometown.

Insp. Charles Monroe, commander of the second district, said an 11-man honor guard and pallbearers detail comprised of police officers will go to Williamston for the funeral. Also, he said, about 90 policemen have said they will attend the funeral.

 

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WASHINGTON POST ARTICLE DATED DECEMBER 7, 1972, PAGE B5
Policemen Crowd Officer’s Funeral
More than 450 persons, many of them uniformed policemen, crowded into a Northeast church yesterday for the funeral service of Ronnie W. Hassell, a city scooter patrolman who was killed in a hit-and-run accident last Saturday in Georgetown.

Hassell, the first scooter patrolman to be killed since the two-wheeled vehicles were introduced to the force in 1966, was praised by a series of speakers, including D.C. Del. Walter E. Flantroy.

The service was held in the New Mount Olive Baptist Church, 710 58th St. NE, because Hassell’s own church, Righteous Church of God, at 616 55th St. NE., could not contain the mourners.

The 20-year-old officer will be buried today in his native Williamston, N.C. The body will be accompanied by an 11-member honor guard from the metropolitan police department. Additionally, about 100 officers will go by chartered bus, on their own time, to the burial.

Policemen from Baltimore, West Virginia, the federal services and surrounding jurisdictions, including D.C. Chief Jerry V. Wilson attended yesterday’s service.

Hassell’s pastor, Elder William R. Vicks, officiated and delivered a 40-minute sermon. Fauntroy, who is a minister, prayed that Hassell’s death “would inspire us, so he shall not have died in vain, to build a community with justice and brotherhood, without poverty.”

The Rev. Rutherford J. Dooley, a police department chaplain, read an essay, “Our Brother Is Gone,” which as written for another occasion by Montgomery County Police Det. Cpl. Douglas L. McFee.

The victim’s wife, Charlotte, held their 15-month-old daughter, Timara, throughout the service.
Hassell joined the department in July, 1971, as a cadet, and became an officer last December. He was assigned to scooter duty at the second district substation, 3218 Volta Pl. NW.

A suspect, William E. Sholes, 32, of 300 W. Glebe Rd., Alexandria, remains in Alexandria jail, where he has refused to waive extradition.

The accident occurred as Hassell drove his scooter south on 29th Street across M Street NW. Witnesses said the scooter was struck by a speeding car going east on M that ran a red light.

While returning from yesterday’s service, an Arlington policeman, Roger Argent, suffered a fractured leg when his motorcycle was in collision with a car at the intersection of Minnesota Avenue and Deane Street NE.

 

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OMAS DINGER
The morning that Ronnie was hit was a very cold December morning, about 4 a.m. I was parked in my Scout car, in a restaurant parking lot at the N.E. corner of Wisconsin Ave. and R St. Ronnie pulled in and pulled his 4 o’clock ‘hook’ from the call box on that corner. He was obviously really cold, so I told him to get into the Scout and warm up. He told me he was getting ready to look into buying a house, and he knew that I had bought my first house 2 years earlier and was asking some questions about procedures. Anyway, we talked for about 15 minutes and then he went back on his patrol. Shortly thereafter the radio call was dispatched. Ronnie lay injured at the south east corner of 29 and M St. There was such extreme damage to his skull that it was a miracle that there was any life in him at all. A couple days later, when I stopped by the funeral home to see him, I don’t know what I felt the most,—Sadness for his loss–Or anger for the fact that he was now dead, all because some irresponsible son of a bitch just couldn’t bring himself to do the right thing. Something as simple as stopping for a f–king red light. Sadness and anger are so closely linked together that it is difficult to know where one stops and the other starts. That feeling about Ronnie’s senseless loss still is experienced to this day.