Served: 9¼ years
October 16, 1930 to April 27, 1940
On April 27, 1940 Motorcycle Patrolman Robert D. Leigh was finishing his shift and heading south on Reading Road to report to City Hall for his regular 11 p.m. end of shift roll call when he crashed his bike into a Pontiac coupe driven by Dr. Dale Ettor. The doctor was exiting his driveway at 2719 Reading Road.
Although bystanders – including Herbert Wiemeyer, 26 Glenwood Avenue; Ed Neuman, operator of a Standard Oil Station at Oak and Reading Roads; and Jacob Marx, 15 Mason Street – immediately ran to Patrolman Leigh’s aid and rushed him across the street to Bethesda Hospital, he was pronounced dead upon arrival by Bethesda’s Dr. H. Mintz.
Patrolman Leigh became Cincinnati and Hamilton County’s 46th auto fatality for 1940.
Dr. Ettor, in a state of shock at what had happened, was taken to his residence at General Hospital. He was cited for failing to yield the right of way at a private drive.
On April 29, 1940, Dr. Ettor was found guilty in Traffic Court. He was fined $10.00 and costs and given a 6-month driving suspension. We read in The Cincinnati Enquirer on May 1, 1940 that Presiding Judge A. L. Luebbers visited the scene of the crash before making his decision. In Judge Luebbers’ opinion, Dr. Ettor should have waited until the traffic light at Reading Road and Oak Streets — just north of his driveway — turned red, thereby holding back traffic, before he emerged from the driveway. Dr. Ettor admitted that he did not know the color of the light.
Patrolman Robert D. Leigh was hired by the Cincinnati Police Department on October 16, 1930. He first worked as a patrolman in District 6; but on August 16, 1934 was transferred to the Safety Patrol.
A native of Tampa, Florida, Patrolman Leigh worked as a patrolman there before his arrival in Cincinnati.
Leigh was described by Major Charles Wolsefer, superintendent of the Highway Safety Bureau as “one of the finest men of our bureau.” Others described him as one of the most widely liked members of the Police Department, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer accounting of April 28, 1940.
Initially The Cincinnati Enquirer erroneously reported that Patrolman Leigh had been chasing a speeder prior to the accident, but a later investigation did not bear this out.
Commenting on the death of Patrolman Leigh, Alfred Segal, in his Cincinnatus column in The Cincinnati Post on April 30, 1940 wrote, “Troubled people have been calling up Cincinnatus: What protection is provided for the widow and five young children of Patrolman Leigh. Cincinnatus finds that the police pension fund will quite decently look after them: For the widow $50 a month, for each of the children $7 until they reach the age of being self-supporting.”
The last week of April, 1940 was a perilous one for the Cincinnati Police Department’s motorcycle patrolmen. While Patrolman Leigh’s accident on Saturday, April 27 was the only one which resulted in a loss of life, on Monday, April 29, Motorcycle Patrolman Higdon Roberts was injured in a collision with an automobile in front of 4008 Spring Grove Avenue and the following day William Means became the third motorcycle patrolman to become injured when his bike swiped an automobile, then crashed into the rear of a Madison Road streetcar at Delta and Kroger Avenues.
From the time when motorcycles were first used by patrolmen, the Cincinnati Police Department constantly strived to make the job of its motorcycle patrol officers safer and more efficient.
On April 15, 1932, The Cincinnati Enquirer informs us that motorcycle officers were going to attend classes once a week to learn about accident prevention and investigation, first aid, proper court procedure and testimony and also to learn about crimes in which automobiles were used. Major Gustave Lorenz was to be in charge of the classes, which were billed by then-safety director John B. Blandford, Jr. as part of a “new Police Academy.”
But despite its best efforts, motorcycle officers continued to die in the line of duty.
Between 1922 and 1948 eleven motorcycle officers in Greater Cincinnati, including the City of Cincinnati, died on the job. The officers and their law enforcement affiliations 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; Willard Santel, Reading, 1945; John Hughes, Cincinnati; 1948; and Lewis Hall, Cincinnati, 1948.
Eventually, so we read in the Cincinnati Post on August 16, 1944, the Division determined it would abandon the use of two-wheel motorcycles and replace them with Scout Cars. The line-of-duty death of yet another motorcycle patrolman that year, John W. Neal, influenced Chief Weatherly to make this recommendation to Safety Director Gordon Scherer, who gave his wholehearted approval.
On April 30, 1940, Patrolman Leigh was buried in Laurel Cemetery, Madisonville. Pallbearers for his funeral included Patrolmen and fellow riders Lawrence Lee, Fred Mitchell, August Barber, John Davis, John Reid and Paul Steuer.
Patrolman Robert D. Leigh left a wife, Lucille, and five children, Robert Jr., 16; Marjorie, 14; Gilbert, 12; Ronald 10; and Patricia, 7. On April 30, 1940, Patrolman Leigh was buried in the Soldiers’ Section in Laurel Cemetery, Madisonville.
And, as the line-of-duty death of every officer has a behind-the-scenes story, so does this one: while the Leighs were residents of Laurel Homes at the time of the accident, they had just completed plans for a new home in Madisonville.
If you have information, artifacts, archives, or images regarding this officer or incident, please contact the Greater Cincinnati incinnati Police Museum at Director@police-museum.org.
-This narrative was revised July 14, 2012 Cincinnati Police Dispatcher Karen R. Arbogast (Retired), Greater Cincinnati Police Museum Volunteer, with some research assistance from Cincinnati Police Lieutenant Stephen R. Kramer (Retired), Greater Cincinnati Police Historical Society President.