Fallen Heroes: Solo Officer Winston Rawlins

Nelson Zoch

March 29, 1982

Winston James Rawlins was born August 1, 1958. After he attended elementary school in Shepherd, Texas, his family moved to Houston where he graduated from Saint Thomas High School in 1976. Winston attended the University of Saint Thomas for two years and followed that with one year at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville. In 1980, he joined the Houston Police Department, graduating from HPD Cadet Class No. 89. He completed his probationary period in November 1980 in Radio Patrol and went shortly thereafter to the solo motorcycle detail of the Accident Division. He wore HPD Badge No. 1787.

On Monday morning, March 29, 1982, Solo Motorcycle Officer Winston Rawlins was working the day shift on freeway patrol. At about 7:15 a.m. he stopped a Toyota vehicle for a traffic violation in the westbound 9000 block of the South Loop East. He stood beside the driver’s door in the right-hand emergency lane, interviewing the driver. His motorcycle was parked in front of the alleged violator’s vehicle.

There was an unusual amount of heavy morning rush-hour traffic, especially since another accident further down the freeway caused traffic to slow to a crawl. A Kenworth gasoline transport truck slowed down to accommodate this traffic buildup, stopping alongside Officer Rawlins, immediately to his left. A Mack eighteen-wheeler loaded with iron ore then struck the right rear of the gasoline truck, glancing off the Kenworth truck and striking the Toyota and Officer Rawlins, pinning him under the right front of the large truck.

Another gravel truck was able to stop behind the gasoline truck without a crash. However, the damage had been done and a number of explosions ensued. The fire destroyed all five vehicles and burned Officer Rawlins beyond recognition. Amazingly, the young officer was the only fatality. He was only twenty-three years old.

Rawlins’ parents, Phillip and Edna Rawlins, survived him, as did his two brothers, Roy Julian Rawlins, and Phillip Rawlins, Jr. However, another really sad fact was that his two young daughters, Tanuneka Allen and Nicole Allen, were left without a father. Winston James Rawlins also was a cousin of HPD Officer Lynn Williams, assigned to the Dispatcher’s Division at that time, and a nephew of Harris County Sheriff’s Detective T. R. Coney, who later became the U. S. Marshal in Houston.

A wake service was held for Officer Rawlins from 8 until 10 p.m. on Wednesday, March 31, at the Carl Barnes Funeral Home at 746 W. 22nd Street. Funeral services were conducted at 1 p.m. Thursday, April 1, at the Mt. Sinai Baptist Church at 902 W. 8th Street. Burial followed at the Paradise North Cemetery at 10401 W. Montgomery Road. Pallbearers were fellow Solo Officers B. E. Goodson, A. E. Coleman, J. E. Baker, J. J. Berry, T. W. Gage and R. E. Abel.

An investigation showed that the gasoline transport truck was loaded with 8,500 gallons of fuel. The heat from the blaze was so intense that the I-beams of the nearby freeway overpass melted and bent as much as six feet down. Accident investigators T. D. “Tiny” Owens, N. P. Blesener and S. E. Carr determined that it was nothing short of a miracle that no one else was seriously injured or killed.

Kenneth Wayne Morrow drove the truck that originally struck the gasoline truck, which caused Officer Rawlins to be thrown and pinned under the truck. He was charged with involuntary manslaughter and later indicted. However, the charges were dropped several years later after his company provided legal counsel. In 2002, Morrow said he is still haunted by the events of that day. At the time of this accident, he had been disabled and retired from the U. S. Military. He was living in a rural area of Central Texas.

Officer Rawlins’ parents owned and operated a service station on Interstate 10 and Waco Street, east of downtown Houston. For a number of years several solo motorcycle officers made this a regular rest stop while working morning or evening rush hour traffic assignments. Several of these officers were J. E. “Jamie” Baker and T. W. “Tommy” Gage. Young Winston worked in the family-owned business and met these officers and many others. According to Officer Baker, Winston always wanted to know what it was like to be a policeman. These officers told him to get his education and then apply to the Houston Police Department if he still had the desire to join HPD. He was thirty hours short of a college degree when he did just that.

Police Dispatcher Lynn Williams was working one of the traffic channels the morning of this tragedy. She heard him call out on the traffic stop. Moments later, dispatchers got a call about a policeman caught in a burning accident near that same location. Williams was quoted as saying, “We knew exactly who it was,” as she joined Rawlins’ family in mourning this great loss. Williams, who graduated from the Police Academy shortly after her cousin, said, “Becoming a policeman was his boyhood dream. He majored in criminology.”

Phillip Rawlins Sr., the officer’s father, died in 1985 and was laid to rest in the family plot near his son. Edna Rawlins, his mother, retired and lived in Northwest Houston in 2002. She too has passed away.  Brother Roy Julian Rawlins lived in Houston. Brother Phillip Rawlins Jr. lived in Houston and had two sons, Phillip Riian Rawlins and Bryant Deray Rawlins. Marshal T. R. Coney died in the late 1990’s. Officer Lynn Williams later resigned from HPD.

Officer Rawlins’ gravesite at the Paradise North Cemetery is marked with the words “KILLED IN ACTION,” a rare recognition for an initial grave marker for a Houston officer killed in the line of duty.   Paradise Cemetery has allowed this author to also place a 100 Club LINE OF DUTY marker to the gravesite also.

As for investigators of this accident, Officer T. D. Owens later resigned from HPD. Officer N. P. Blesener was promoted to sergeant in 1984 and, after working Patrol at Central and South Central, was assigned to the Personnel Division in 2002. Officer S. E. Carr died suddenly of a heart attack in 1992 at the age of forty-five. All of the pallbearer friends of Officer Rawlins were retired in 2002 except J.J. Berry, who also recently retired after a long stint serving as first vice president of the Houston Police Officers Union.  As of 2014, Goodson, Abel, and Baker are deceased.  Gage is and has been the Sheriff of Montgomery County north of Houston.

As tragic as this day began, it would only end even worse.  This same day, some thirteen hours later, at 8:30 p.m., another solo, Officer W. E. Deleon, was struck by an intoxicated driver and killed on the Southwest Freeway.