Fallen Heroes: William Edwin DeLeon

Nelson Zoch

March 29, 1982

William Edwin DeLeon was born on October 3, 1946 in Nacogdoches. His family moved to Houston and he attended schools in the Aldine area and graduated from Aldine High School. He then attended South Texas Junior College. He joined the Houston Police Department by entering Police Cadet Class No. 39 on August 26, 1968. This class graduated on December 14 of that year. He wore Badge No. 2280 and worked the Traffic Enforcement Division for several years before he transferred to the Solo Motorcycle Detail. People in HPD called him “Ponce” DeLeon after the famous explorer of history.

On the evening of Monday, March 29, 1982, the entire Houston Police Department – especially the Solo detail – was grieving over the tragic and fiery death of Solo Officer Winston J. Rawlins earlier that day. At 8:30 p.m. that same day Officer William E. “Ponce” DeLeon was working the evening shift and was set up in the emergency lane of the 1300 block of the Southwest Freeway (inbound) working radar on incoming traffic. His partner, Officer J. W. Dunbar, was inbound on the Southwest Freeway from a previous traffic stop when a blue Cadillac passed him at a high rate of speed. Dunbar clocked this vehicle at more than eighty-seven miles per hour. Dunbar then radioed ahead to DeLeon the “clock” on the Cadillac.

“I was attempting to catch up to the vehicle,” Dunbar said, “but had not yet activated my emergency equipment. I observed the Cadillac drift back and forth between several lanes of traffic. Then, it passed another vehicle and drifted all the way over to the right of the freeway.

“There, Ponce was waiting. Like a magnet, the Cadillac headed directly toward Ponce and his motor. It looked like a bomb went off and there were motorcycle parts flying in all directions, but I did not see my partner. I saw the Cadillac was heavily damaged and at that time, I got the vehicle stopped. I immediately put out an “Assist the Officer.” After I got the Cadillac driver out of his car, a patrol unit came up and took custody of him. I was then approached by a citizen who told me that there was an officer lying in the freeway.

“We got on the radio and asked that the freeway be shut down. Myself and some other units went right back to check, going the wrong way on the freeway and found that what the citizen saw was part of the motorcycle’s motor. Then I saw Ponce’s weapon and helmet. We still could not find Ponce until Officer Charlie Contreras looked out over the guardrail and saw him.”

Two civilian witnesses, along with Officer Dunbar, followed this Cadillac and got it stopped three tenths of a mile from where Officer DeLeon had been struck. The driver was arrested immediately without incident. These two witnesses later stated that they saw the suspect vehicle strike Officer DeLeon and began to follow him carefully, never losing sight of him or his vehicle until Officer Dunbar took him into custody. The initial findings of the investigation revealed that Officer DeLeon had been struck and thrown 202 feet from the point of impact. The motorcycle was found 285 feet from the point of impact.

HFD ambulance personnel treated Officer DeLeon at the scene until LifeFlight Helicopter medics arrived. LifeFlight took him to Hermann Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 9:45 p.m. He was thirty-five years old.

Officer William DeLeon was survived by his wife Patricia, his parents, Mr. and Mrs. William DeLeon Sr., eleven-year-old daughter Autumn DeLeon and eight-year-old son Michael. A sister, Kathy DeLeon, and brother, Hal Glenn DeLeon, also survived him, as did Autumn and Michael’s mother, Mrs. Helen DeLeon, stepdaughter Shelley Newcomer, age fourteen, and stepson Shannon Newcomer, age ten, and brother-in-law, Houston Police Officer Manny Ortega.

Funeral services were held at 1 p.m. Friday, April 2, 1982, at the Oak Forest Baptist Church, 1700 West 43rd. Burial followed in the Field of Honor at Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery, 6900 Lawndale. Pallbearers were fellow Solo motorcycle Officers J. W. Dunbar, J. L. Woodcock, J. A. Krpec, J. M. Bell, R. M. Zumwalt and R. V. Garcia.

Officers responding to the original call of an Assist the Officer were Patrol Officers J. E. Scanlon and R. A. Dove, followed shortly thereafter by Accident Officer J. Montemayor. These initial investigators determined that this line-of-duty death should be turned over to the Hit and Run Detail of the Accident Division.  Hit and Run Officers D. G. Clifton, P. Araiza, T. M. Rice and W. E. Lunsford were in the immediate response group. The investigation revealed that Officer DeLeon had received massive head, chest and abdominal injuries from being hit by the speeding Cadillac. The driver, Rogelio “Roger” Gomez Garcia (White male; 33), was arrested at the scene. He was extremely intoxicated.

Officers interviewed the husband and wife eyewitnesses, Mr. and Mrs. Edwin Lee Ubernosky, at length. They said they were driving behind the suspect and saw the Cadillac strike the officer and his motorcycle. They never lost sight of the Cadillac, followed it when it stopped and could definitely say that the arrested suspect was the driver. They were present with Officer Dunbar when he arrested the suspect. Other witnesses came forward with statements indicating that the Cadillac had passed them on the freeway at speeds estimated at one-hundred miles per hour.

The investigation continued when Sergeant C. J. Mangano and Officer A. G. Kinsel took the suspect to Central Police Station where he refused to take a breath test. He did sign a consent to search his vehicle. He said he refused the test due to his previous legal problems with DWI charges. He said that he had been drinking alcohol most of the day at the Four Palms on Telephone Road, as well as at another location in southwest Houston. The investigation determined that his head struck the inside rear view mirror and windshield of his vehicle upon impact. He was taken to Ben Taub for examination but didn’t sustain any injuries.

As is the normal procedure in an investigation of an officer fatality, many officers assisted in various ways.  Those who directed the investigation were Lieutenant W. G. Eickenhorst and Sergeants R. R. Schweiker and K. E. Crawford. Also assisting were Officers J. L. Scott, W. B. Johnson, C. Ramirez, P. J. Cooper, C. E. Elliott, W. G. Blair, E. C. Tyler, G. W. Anderson, S. E. Carr, J. C. Wolf, G. D. Brown, A. L. Gilbert, K. J. Howaniec, R. L. Horton, L. W. Bolton, D. L. Schultz, and F. E. Braune. HPD Support personnel instrumental in the professional examination of physical evidence were Chemist R. H. Warkentin and Latent Print Examiner Jerry Werner.

After all of the evidence was presented to the District Attorney’s Office, Assistant DA Pechacek accepted charges of involuntary manslaughter and failure to stop and render aid in the 248th Criminal District Court. On October 28, 1982, a jury convicted Rogelio Garcia and sentenced him to nine years in the Texas Department of Corrections. He also was fined $5,000.  Unfortunately, as seems to be the usual in these types of cases, only a short term of these nine years was actually served.

In 2003, Patricia DeLeon had remarried and lived near Lake Livingston. Daughter Autumn Marley is married and lives in the Bear Creek area.  She and Jeff Marley are the parents  of a son Jordan Marley and a daughter Jamie Marley. Officer DeLeon’s son, Michael Edwin DeLeon, lives near Tomball.  He and his wife Dianne have two daughters, Brooke and Fayth, and one son, a namesake of his grandfather. He was named William Michael J. DeLeon. His family calls him “Will.”

Autumn and Michael’s mother, Helen, divorced from Officer DeLeon at the time of his death, went on with her life and raised Autumn and Michael to be productive citizens. She earned a college degree in divinity and social work. In 2003, she had become an associate minister at a Clear Lake area Presbyterian Church.

Officer DeLeon’s father, retired Harris County Deputy Sheriff William Emmett DeLeon, Jr., died in June 2002. The officer’s mother resided in the Houston area in 2003. Brother Hal Glenn DeLeon lived near Tomball, the father of two sons, Bobby and Matt. Sister Kathy lived with her mother. The DeLeon family also had another sibling, a sister, Janice, who died of a heart attack at age eighteen.

Helen said she and Edwin graduated from Aldine High School together but actually met at an area church they both attended. She said she supported his decision to become a police officer because he felt like that was what he was meant to be. She overcame a number of obstacles but remained close to the extended DeLeon family.

Lieutenant Eickenhorst retired in 1994 after many years as the Solo Motorcycle Detail lieutenant. He lived in Houston in 2003. Sergeants Mangano and Schweiker worked in the Accident Division that year and Sergeant Kirby Crawford died in 1983. Also in 2003, Officer Montemayor was a Hit and Run sergeant and Officer Araiza worked in the Hit and Run Unit. Officer Scanlon worked South Central Patrol. Officer Rice worked in the Inspector General’s Office. Officer Dove retired in 1993 and Officers Clifton and Lunsford resigned from the Department.

As for the close friends and pallbearers of Officer DeLeon, Officer James Dunbar, a regular partner of Officer “Ponce” Deleon for five years, retired as a sergeant in 1997 and went into the private security business. Officer J. L. Woodcock worked at Westside Patrol in 2003. Officer John A. “Tony” Krpec retired in 1989. Officer J. M. Bell was no longer with HPD. Officer Randy Zumwalt was a sergeant in the Burglary and Theft Division at Westside. Officer Raymond Garcia retired in 2002.

Jim Dunbar said, “Ponce was not only my partner, but he was one of my two closest friends. He was a devoted husband and father who loved his family dearly. Before retirement, I had been a police officer for twenty-seven years and have never met anyone with more dedication and loyalty to his job than Ponce. We rode together almost five years on duty, worked most of our extra jobs together and we spent a lot of off time together with our families. Ponce was the type person that if you needed him, no matter what he was doing or where he was, he would come to help you.

“Just a few months before he was killed, my vehicle broke down on a freeway service road. I called Ponce and he immediately came to help. Before we could get my vehicle started, we were robbed at gunpoint by two males in the parking lot. Needless to say, shots were fired. One suspect was wounded and the other was DOA. As Ponce and I were en route to the Homicide Division, we spoke about how lucky we were not to have been shot. Ponce told me that if we could make it through that shooting, we could make it through anything. A few months later he was gone.”

Officer DeLeon was the third member of Police Cadet Class No. 39 to meet his death in the line of duty. Officer Robert Wayne Lee was shot and killed in January 1971 as was Detective Victor Ray Wells in October 1980.