December 17, 1929
On Monday night, December 16, 1929, Motorcycle Officer C. F. “Osburn” Thomas was on duty on his motor in the business district at approximately 7:30 p.m. when he heard the clang of a fire department apparatus rushing south on Caroline Street.
The trucks were going to a major fire reported at 1122 Capital Avenue. With his siren screaming, Thomas hurried east on Texas Avenue in an attempt to reach Caroline in advance of the fire engine. Then he would further escort the firefighters to their assigned destination.
It was his extreme devotion to his duty that caused this dedicated public servant to attempt to accomplish his self-assigned mission. However, a hose truck, two engine trucks and the fire chief’s chauffeur vehicle had already gone through this intersection.
As Officer Thomas approached Texas and Caroline, another pumper truck driven by Fireman A. Giese was entering the intersection. Thomas, apparently seeing that a crash was inevitable, slammed on his brakes, causing his motorcycle to veer. Witnesses saw the motor strike the rear of the pumper and skid right under the large vehicle’s wheels.
Officer Thomas sustained extensive injuries to his left chest. A Fogle-West ambulance rushed him to Baptist Hospital where he passed away from those injuries at 5:40 a.m. Tuesday, December 17, 1929. He was only twenty-three.
He was survived by his wife, Eula Lee Thomas of 4444 Clay in Houston and his parents, Mr. and Mrs. J. A. Thomas, one sister, Mrs. Mary Edna Landrum, and three brothers, Leo Thomas of Miami, Florida, and Lynn and Fred, both of Houston.
Funeral services were held from the Westheimer Funeral Home on Thursday, December 19, with the Reverend L. H. Mathison officiating. Burial followed at the Forest Park Lawndale Cemetery, 6900 Lawndale. The escort included Houston police officers, Houston firefighters and, especially, his fellow motorcycle squad officers. Pallbearers were Emmett Bailey, R. E. Rogers, R. H. “Rimps” Sullivan (Line of Duty Death: 1935), Robert Vaughn, R. F. Johnson and W. E. “Pokey” Sammons.
Interestingly enough, of the pallbearers, Officer Sammons had been a former partner of Officer Thomas. Officer Sullivan was shot and killed in the line of duty in 1935 and is buried not far from Officer Thomas, as is Officer J. Clark Etheridge, killed in the line of duty in 1924. Officer Etheridge was riding with Officer Sammons on the night he was killed on his motorcycle just south of downtown Houston.
C.F. (initials only) Osburn Thomas was born on May 8, 1906, in Hearne, Texas. His parents were Mr. James A. Thomas (from Florida) and Mrs. Ella Osburn Thomas (from Tennessee). He had been with the Police Department since January 9, 1929 and recently been assigned to the motorcycle force. He was well known at the HFD Central Station for his willingness to assist firefighters on their way to a fire scene by preceding the fire trucks and warning motorists of their approach. It was that dedication, unfortunately, that led to his death.
The following poetic tribute was written about Officer Thomas by the Reverend F. M. Johnson, chaplain of the Houston Fire Department:
When the siren shrieked through the city’s streets,
As fireman rode a danger to meet,
When excited crowds heard the clanging bell,
And knew that fireman would soon face hell,
HE CLEARED THE WAY.
His siren was heard above all the rest,
In the line of duty he gave his best;
When he faced danger he met the test,
Now his duty done, he deserves his rest:
HE CLEARED THE WAY.
No thought of self as he nightly rode,
His duty was first he plainly showed.
His staunch brave spirit has gone on high,
And there for a comet in God’s great sky.
HE CLEARED THE WAY.
Such a spirit as his will ne’er grow dim,
One thinks of a cross, of the love of Him,
Who, too, saw duty, but such they slay,
For it’s not easy on any day
TO CLEAR THE WAY.
Officer C. F. Thomas’ gravesite was located in the old section of Forest Park on the north side of Lawndale. The marker reads:
DIED IN THE LINE OF DUTY
HOUSTON MOTORCYCLE POLICE SAFETY CLUB