Fallen Hero: Officer Frank Manuel Cantu Jr.

Nelson Zoch

March 26, 2004

Frank Manuel Cantu Jr. was born on May 12, 1961 in Sacramento, California. His early years were divided between Texas and California since his parents were divorced and lived in different states. He lived with his mother in California but also spent long periods of time in and around Houston with his dad, HPD Officer Frank Cantu Sr. He attended elementary and junior high schools in California. After attending high school in Aldine and Spring, he graduated from Norte Del Rio High School in Sacramento, where he participated in football, baseball and wrestling.

Frank joined the Houston Police Department as a trainee in HPD Police Cadet Class No. 114, which began training on June 27, 1983. That class graduated on October 29 and this young man began his career as a full-fledged police officer on July 7, 1984. He wore Badge No. 790. During his career he served at the Northwest Patrol Stations and the Special Operations Division.

At approximately 2:20 a.m. Thursday, March 26, 2004, Officer F.M. Cantu, assigned to the Special Operations Division, was on patrol riding a one-man unit. While driving north on Dunlavy, he was nearly through the intersection of Dunlavy and West Gray when  an eastbound Mitsubishi sports car on West Gray struck the left rear quarter of the patrol car. The impact knocked the patrol car thirty or forty feet into a flower bed.

This collision caused Officer Cantu to be thrown around inside his vehicle. He suffered severe injuries and was rushed to Memorial Hermann Hospital where he was pronounced dead at 3 a.m. Officer Cantu, a twenty-year HPD veteran, was dead at forty-two years of age.

The officer was not married. Mourning his death were his father, retired HPD Officer Frank Cantu of Mexico; his mother and stepfather, Marie and Wesley Pyevach of Canyonville, Oregon; brother, Eric Able Cantu; and two sisters, Anna Marie Ross and Deborah Ann Boyd.  Also mourning his death were five nieces and nephews, ranging in age from three to nine years old.

Forest Park Westheimer Funeral Home at 12800 Westheimer was in charge of arrangements. Visitation was held on Tuesday, March 30, from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m., with a Rosary conducted at 6 p.m. Funeral Mass was held from the Saint Cyril of Alexandria Catholic Church, 10503 Westheimer, on Wednesday, March 31 at 1 p.m. Cremation followed.

Officer Rene Palomo of the Accident Division investigated this great tragedy. The driver of the vehicle which struck Officer Cantu was identified as Johnston Ripley Beacom IV (White Male, 29). Beacom suffered minor injuries and his passenger, Nicolas Andrew Ramirez, refused any treatment at the scene. A breath test administered at the scene showed to be more than 0.08 per cent, the legal limit to drive. As a result of that test, charges of intoxication manslaughter were filed on Beacom, a chimney sweep who resided in the 7200 block of Staffordshire.

In newspaper accounts, Officer Palomo indicated that Cantu’s police vehicle apparently went airborne after being struck with such force as there were no skid marks. The police vehicle came to rest one hundred feet away from the point of impact. From Officer Cantu’s injuries, it became painfully apparent that he was not using his seat belt when struck. While it could not be proven if Beacom ran a red light, it was apparent to accident investigators that he was speeding.  The point of impact on the police vehicle being on the left side rear, it appeared that Officer Cantu almost made it through the intersection and probably never saw this vehicle coming toward him.

Cantu had just completed his twenty years and was planning to work another ten years, buy a boat and retire to take it easy. He was praised as a quick-witted man, easy-going and an officer who was easy to supervise. He went out and did his job with little or no direction. He was well known and very well liked at an extra job in River Oaks at the St. John’s School where he directed traffic. He was known to treat the little folks as “his kids.”

His mother, Mrs. Pyevach, described her son as a man who loved his job and came from a law enforcement family. In addition to his father being with HPD, his stepfather, Wesley Pyevach, served with the California Highway Patrol and the Sacramento Marshall’s Office. A brother-in-law was working at the Santa Rosa, California PD and a sister with the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department.

The elder Officer Cantu fondly recalled in the 1980s when he worked for HPD in the recruiting division. He particularly wanted to impress the prize recruit of his career so he personally paid for and sent a limousine to the airport to pick up his son for the next step in the application process. Mrs. Pyevach, the grieving mother, commented that her son loved being a police officer and couldn’t work enough extra jobs. Officer Cantu was very close to his nieces and nephews and treated them as his own children, buying them U. S. savings bonds for birthdays and Christmas to start them on their way to saving for their college education. He was very family-oriented and loved young people, volunteering as a football coach at Davis High School.

Newspaper accounts indicated that Johnston Beacom had an extensive driving record.  This likely contributed to his pleading guilty on the intoxication manslaughter charge and on October 28, 2004, he was sentenced to ten years in the Texas Department of Corrections.