Drunken Driver Strikes, Kills Officer Joe Zamarron As he Helped Investigate a Minor Accident on Market

Nelson Zoch

April 18, 1981

Jose Adolfo Zamarron Jr., also known as Joseph Adolph Zamarron, was born in Houston on Feb. 9, 1953, the son of Houston Police Officer Ignacio “Nash” Zamarron Sr. and his wife, Guadalalupe Zamarron.


Jose, or “Joe,” received his elementary education at the Resurrection Catholic School, attended Furr Junior High School and St. Thomas High School for a short time. He graduated from Stephen F. Austin High School in 1971 and later attended Southwest Texas State College in San Marcos.


Joe served his country in the United States Army for three years during the Vietnam War from 1973-1976. A year of that service was spent in Korea. After returning from the military, he was accepted into the Houston Police Cadet Class No. 74. Members of this class began their training on March 29, 1976 and took their oath of office on July 16, 1976. His first assignment was to the night shift of Radio Patrol, Northeast Division.


He wore HPD Badge No. 3025.


Finding a Partner


While in the Police Academy, Joe, from all accounts, was a very likeable man. He met Russell Chapman, another cadet, during his training there. They became acquainted and after graduating from Class No. 74, found themselves on the same night shift roll call in Radio Patrol at Northeast Substation. They didn’t immediately become close friends. But three years later they wound up in the same patrol car together. According to Russell, the first night they rode together, he wanted the two to become regular partners. Eventually they did.

On the Friday night of April 17, 1981, Joe and Russell were assigned to ride Unit 10C66. While on patrol they observed off-duty Officers J. M. Aldaco and C. Roark standing outside the Illusion Club at 12774 Market, working an extra job in uniform. This was at approximately 11:35 p.m. and Joe and Russell stopped by to see if they needed any assistance on anything and especially to advise them that they were in the area. While doing so, they viewed an accident involving two vehicles traveling westbound on Market.


Officers Zamarron and Chapman immediately responded to this location to lend assistance. They were followed by Aldaco and Roark.


This was what we know as an investigation of a minor accident. Doing his duty, Officer Zamarron proceeded to the front of one of the vehicles along with both of the drivers involved in the mishap. He was standing on the dirt median in the center of the eastbound and westbound lanes of Market.


Officers Chapman, Aldaco and Roark were assessing the vehicular damage when Chapman observed an eastbound vehicle traveling at a seemingly high rate of speed. Chapman shouted at his partner about the instant the speeding vehicle struck Joe Zamarron.


The young officer was thrown over one vehicle, onto their patrol car and into the street. Joe was rushed immediately to nearby Northshore Hospital. He was dead on arrival.


This particular Friday was Good Friday, the religious holiday before Easter. However, it was not good for the Zamarron family and Joe’s many, many friends. He was dead at the age of 28.


Police arrested the driver at the scene after her vehicle struck several other vehicles. She was determined to be intoxicated. Jerrie Ann Williams was charged with involuntary manslaughter after tests indicated her blood alcohol level to be .017.


A Police Family


Officer Zamarron was survived by his wife, Elizabeth Ann Zamarron, and two sons, seven-year-old Joseph Adolph Zamarron Jr. and four-year-old Jason Anthony Zamarron. Other survivors were his parents, retired HPD Officer Ignacio “Nash” Zamarron and Guadalupe G. Zamarron, and two sisters, Mrs. Katherine Ann Drescher and Miss Patricia Ruth Zamarron. Also mourning his death were his cousin, HPD Officer Larry Buzo (now a sergeant) as well as an uncle, Officer Tony Magdelano.


A Rosary was recited at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, April 19, 1981, with a eulogy service held at 10 a.m. on Monday, April 20, 1981, at the Crespo Funeral Home, 2516 Navigation. The deceased was then taken to the Resurrection Catholic Church, 915 Zoe at Market Street, where a funeral Mass was conducted with Father Robert Carlson as celebrant. Graveside services were conducted at the Forest Park Cemetery, 6900 Lawndale, under the auspices of the Houston Police Department Military Detail.


The story of the suspect, Jerrie Ann Williams, did not end with her arrest. She was also charged with possession of a controlled substance and carrying a weapon after several guns and some pills were found in her vehicle at the time of her arrest. She was apparently able to make the appropriate bond. However, on Feb. 23, 1982, the bond in each of the cases were forfeited when she failed to appear in court on the involuntary manslaughter charge.


Williams remained a fugitive from justice until March 30, 1982, when she was apprehended by HPD officers hiding in a closet in her husband’s trailer in the 200 block of Broadway. One of the arresting Officers, Bobby D. Lott, had responded to a neighbor’s call to an open door in this trailer. She was eventually brought to some semblance of justice in October 1982.


A jury convicted her after a trial in the manslaughter case. While she could have received 10 years in prison and a $5,000 fine, Williams received a sentence of only three years in prison for striking and killing a Houston police officer while intoxicated. She was released from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on mandatory supervision in 1985. Her whereabouts today are unknown as her original driver’s license number now belongs to another individual.


Naming a School Library


Officer Zamarron’s father, a retired HPD Officer who had also worked for the Harris County Sheriff’s Department, was a close friend of retired (and now deceased) HPD Sgt. Raul Martinez. A new elementary school was built in the Denver Harbor area where Officer Joe Zamarron spent his childhood. This school, located at 7211 Market, was named Raul Martinez Elementary School. In 1992, the library at this school was named after Joe Zamarron. Also, for several years, a softball tournament was held in Officer Joe Zamarron’s name.


Officer Russell Chapman continued his career at Northeast after the death of his close friend and partner. The same year of this tragedy, 1981, Russell promoted from the same sergeants promotion list that contained the name of Joe Zamarron. Russell worked nights and evenings as a sergeant at Northeast until 1993, when he transferred to Mounted Patrol, his present assignment. Of the other two Police Officer witnesses, Officer Joe Aldaco is now assigned to the Traffic/Accident Division and Officer Curtis Roark works out of the Northeast Patrol Division.


This accident was investigated by Officers Billy Chance and Mark S. Zimmerman. Chance later resigned from HPD. Officer Zimmerman was killed while en route to work one night on Memorial Drive, having been struck head-on by a DWI. Officer Bobby Lott, who was involved in the second arrest of the Zamarron case suspect, is a K-9 officer in the Narcotics Division.


Another Officer from this class, James Donald Harris, was shot and killed in the line of duty in 1982.


When I spoke with Sgt. Russell Chapman about this tragedy, he was most willing to provide his thoughts on the death of his partner. Expressions like these will henceforth be included in this column.


His Partner Remembers


Sgt. Chapman said:


Joe Zamarron and I were classmates while attending the Houston Police Academy in 1976. When we graduated, we were both assigned to the night shift at Northeast Patrol. It was only after three years in patrol that we started riding together.


“Joe was the best regular partner I had during the five years of working the night shift at Northeast. I knew on the first night that we rode together that I wanted him as a regular partner. We spent a lot of time together, not only at work but also in our off-duty hours. Our families became well known to each other because of our camping trips and weekend barbeques.


“Big Joe, as he was called because of his size, was one of the most compassionate police officers that I have known in my 27-year career. He did more for unfortunate kids than anyone ever though of during that particular time. Joe did not care what other people (police officers) thought of him for his acts of kindness as long as he thought he was doing the right thing for other human beings.


“When it came to work, we could almost read each other’s minds in handling the situations that we were put in on the streets of Northeast Houston. On several occasions he would place himself in danger just to protect me and in return I always felt that protecting him was the number one priority on any workday.


“I wish that I could have protected him on the night he was killed.


“I owe my sergeant’s stripes to him because he dared me to study and take the promotional exam along with him. I’ve tried to use him as an example for compassion as a supervisor, but I know I sometimes come up short. Police officers do not have a problem expressing themselves.


“It has been 22 years since he was killed and there is hardly a day that goes by that I am not reminded in some small way of the things that we did together as partners or as best friends. I do not have a brother, but to me he was the closest thing that I will ever have to one. In some ways I feel that I have had an angel watching over me for the last 22 years.”


Mrs. Elizabeth Zamarron remarried and lives in the Houston area. Son Joseph, now 28, is an ironworker who is engaged to be married. Son Jason, now 25, is also an ironworker and is married. Mrs. Zamarron has another son by her second marriage.


Mrs. Guadalupe Zamarron, the officer’s mother, died in 1983. His father, Ignacio Zamarron, died in 1988. Both are buried next to their only son at Forest Park-Lawndale. Sister Katherine is married and lives in Houston. She tragically lost one son in a motorcycle accident. Her other son, Joseph, a namesake for Joe Zamarron, has been a Houston Metro officer for 11 years. Sister Patricia is married, lives in Tomball and has a seven-year-old child.


At the 2003 Police Week Memorial service, I had the pleasure of meeting Officer Zamarron’s sister and brother-in-law, Kathy and Pete. I have spoken to son Joe and nephew Joseph. I look forward to meeting the rest of the remaining Zamarron family soon.


Without hesitation, I can say that the Zamarron family, Russell Chapman, and the HPD family will never forget the tremendous loss they suffered that night in 1981. I did not have the opportunity to know Officer Joseph Adolph Zamarron, but once again, I can only say that we should never forget him.