Served: 6½ years
February 16, 1938 to July 13, 1944
Motorcycle Patrolman John W. Neal, Jr. – a four year veteran of the Highway Safety Bureau – was killed on his to way to work on July 13, 1944, when he struck a sedan as he traveled westbound on Columbia Parkway near Martin Street. The patrolman was riding his motorcycle from his Hyde Park home to the Bureau’s headquarters at 801 Plum Street, a practice which was customary at that time and still is customary today.
The driver of the sedan was Ernest Collins, 52, Rural Route 1, Burlington, Kentucky, who was heading eastbound and had made a left turn onto Martin Street in front of Neal’s motorcycle.
The two collided with such force that Patrolman Neal was thrown from his bike. The impact of the accident crushed his chest, fractured his skull, his jaw, and his left wrist and caused him multiple facial and head lacerations
Three of the four passengers inside Collins’ vehicle were injured as well. They were Vernon Tuttman and William Lea, both of Hebron, and William Eggleston of Burlington. Collins and another passenger, Robert Hodges, also from Burlington, suffered from shock but reported no physical injuries.
Patrolman Neal and Tuttman, who sustained fractured ribs in the accident, were both taken to General Hospital.
Patrolman Neal died at the hospital from his injuries at 9 a.m. and became the twenty-ninth auto fatality in the city during 1944.
Patrolman Neal left his wife of twelve days, Virginia Neal, and both his parents, Susan E. and John W. Neal, Sr. His funeral was held at 1309 E. McMillan Street on July 17, 1944 at 2 p.m. Pallbearers included Patrolmen Ralph Ashby, Eugene Simpson, Charles Bradbury, Bradley Mathis, Wilber Klosterman, and Harry Hull. He was buried in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Saint Bernard.
Major Elmer O’Neil, Sergeant Higdon Roberts, and Patrolmen Rex Burdsall and Robert Klug investigated the accident and charged Collins with Manslaughter. Collins, however, told investigating officers that he believed he had had sufficient time to complete the turn onto Martin Street. He said that at the time, he was driving about 25 miles an hour and that the cycle was “a considerable distance back from the intersection at the time.”
Judges William D. Alexander and Clarence Spraul dismissed both charges—the charge of manslaughter and that of making an improper turn – against Ernest Collins on July 26, 1944. We read in the Cincinnati Enquirer on July 27, 1944 that, “Both Judges heard a number of witnesses and held that the speed of Neal’s motorcycle resulted in the crash.”
The death of Motorcycle Patrolman John W. Neal, Jr. caused Safety Director Gordon Scherer to request from Police Chief Eugene Weatherly a written report evaluating motorcycle use in the Cincinnati Police Department. Scherer had concerns about their use following Neal’s accident and death.
Weatherly recommended that police use of two-wheel motorcycles “be discontinued as fast as they can be replaced with scout cars.” The report emphasized the greater safety and economy of scout cars as compared with motorcycles. In part, Weatherly’s report read:
“It would be advisable to eliminate the use of motorcycles for the apprehension of all moving traffic violators. The three-wheel type of car, however, has been successful for parking control and its use should be continued for that purpose.”
Also in the report, Chief Weatherly revealed that Cincinnati Police had 27 two-wheel motorcycles but only 14 patrolmen available for patrol duty. The average life of the cycles, Weatherly reported, was “60,000 miles compared with 180,000 miles of cars with the cost of operation the same.”
During the first six months of 1944, police records indicated that 15 men lost 182 days through various disabilities incurred by riding the motorcycles – this came to 30% of the injury days lost by the entire police department.
The report concluded, as reported in the Cincinnati Post, that cycles lost “150 – 160 days a year because of inclement weather.”
But the overriding concerns which initiated discussion about replacing the two-wheel motorcycles with scout cars were related to safety. At the time of the Neal tragedy, four Cincinnati Motorcycle Patrolmen had died in the line of duty since 1935, and overall – in the Greater Cincinnati area, even more had died: Those men are: Emery Farmer, Fairfield Township, 1922; David Rogers, Covington, 1923; Arthur Seaman, North College Hill, 1923; J. Roy Hicks, Cincinnati, 1935; Howard Beitman, Cincinnati, 1935; Harry Rose, Covington, 1938; Robert Leigh, Cincinnati, 1940; John Neal, Cincinnati, 1944.
Casualties among motorcycle patrolmen were to get worse before they got better. On April 27, 1940 the Cincinnati Police Department lost Robert D. Leigh, a ten-year motorcycle veteran of what was then called the Safety Patrol, a division of the Highway Safety Bureau. Patrolman Leigh crashed his bike into a car as the driver was exiting a private drive at 2719 Reading Road. The driver of the car was found guilty in Traffic Court.
And as if that wasn’t enough tragedy to befall the Police Department as the last week in April, 1940 wound to a close, just two days later, Motorcycle Patrolman Higdon Roberts was injured in a collision with an automobile in front of 4008 Spring Grove Avenue. And the next day, April 30, William Means became the third motorcycle patrolman to become injured when his bike swiped an automobile, and then crashed into the rear of a Madison Road streetcar at Delta and Kroger Avenues.
Still–Weatherly report and recommendations aside—either the Division did not order its motorcycle patrolmen to stop pursuing speeders or, if they did issue such an order, the dangerous practice was resumed after the dust settled on the events of the summer of 1944.
Records compiled and maintained by the Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society show that three more Greater Cincinnati area motorcycle patrolmen were to meet death in the performance of their duties. They were: Willard Santel, Reading, 1945; John Hughes, Cincinnati; 1948; and Lewis Hall, Cincinnati, 1948. These records also show that there were no more Motorcycle Patrolmen killed in the line of duty after 1948.
If you have further information, artifacts, archives, or images of this officer or incident, please contact the Museum Director at Director@police-museum.org.
This narrative was revised on June 15, 2012 by Cincinnati Police Dispatcher Karen Arbogast (Retired), Greater Cincinnati Police Museum Researcher, with research assistance from Cincinnati Police Lieutenant Stephen R. Kramer (Retired), Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society President.