Vasquez: “The line of blue and red flashing lights stretched as far as the eye could see”

Assistant Chief Charlie Vasquez

(Editor’s Note: Chief Charlie Vazquez was in charge of the HPD detail tasked with taking Officer Richard Martin to his final resting place in his home state of Oklahoma. Here is the chief’s first-person account of this grave assignment.)

Two hearses (one was a backup in case the other became disabled ),three marked HPD Tahoes, and four solo units were lined up at the Geo. H. Lewis & Son funeral home on Bering preparing to take Officer Richard Martin home to Wanette, Oklahoma.

The distinctive black Dodge Chargers of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol (OHP) greeted us at mile marker one with those ever-familiar red and blue flashing lights. Local Oklahoma agencies either joined the escort through their jurisdiction or paid their respects while standing on an overpass.

The procession was making better time than expected and was close to an hour ahead of schedule. Nevertheless, entering the destination city of Norman, the procession was greeted by the Norman Police Department. NPD assisted OHP with the escort. Additionally, every major intersection between the city limits and the Primrose Funeral Home was staffed by NPD officers blocking traffic and rendering salutes.

Norman Police Lt. Callaghan greeted our procession at the funeral home. Two OHP troopers also were present. The troopers stood on either side of the doorway and rendered smart salutes as Officer Martin was carried from the hearse into the funeral home.

A bagpiper nearby played “Amazing Grace.”

Lt. Callaghan advised the members of the procession that NPD would be honored to stand watch over Officer Martin during the night so they could rest after the long drive from Houston. The officers from the Westside Division advised that they would not leave their comrade’s side and they would take turns standing watch.

It was decided that both NPD and HPD would stand watch together. The OHP offered their Honor Guard to perform a 21-gun salute for the service the following day – with their revolvers no less!

It needs to be noted at this time that Oklahoma was experiencing severe weather with its typical springtime torrential rains. More rain was forecast overnight. As predicted, heavy rainfall happened. It was reported that the road to the cemetery was impassable. OHP flew over the cemetery with their Air Support unit and verified the roads were impassable. Additionally, the funeral home stated that even if the roads became passable, the ground was too saturated to bury Officer Martin.

With the assistance of the Air Force Honor Guard, OHP Honor Guard and the HPD Honor Guard, a dignified ceremony was performed at the Primrose Funeral Home. But the problem of not being able to bury Officer Martin remained.

Norman Police Lt. Chad Vincent had one final, overwhelming trick up his sleeve.  He understood that the procession had to return to Houston. He also understood that Officer Martin deserved the dignity of having a watch over his casket until such time that he was interred.

Thus Lt. Vincent promised that NPD would maintain a watch over Officer Martin until he was interred and would call Assistant Chief Vazquez when the assignment was complete.

Undying Devotion

The procession profusely thanked the members of NPD and OHP. They said their goodbyes to Officer Martin and headed back to Houston.

Just north of Dallas, the procession stopped at a restaurant to get something to eat and rest a little bit since had been a long and stressful day. Nearing the end of their meal, the 11 members of the procession asked the server for their respective bills. They were advised that their bill was already taken care of. The server explained that an anonymous person saw them the day before heading north with Officer Martin.

The server told our group that the anonymous person was so taken by the sight of the lengthy procession the day before that he felt compelled to pay their bill today.

The HPD officers who had the honor of this assignment were overwhelmed by the reverence, compassion and generosity they encountered along the way. From the generosity of Geo. H. Lewis Funeral Home to the solidarity shown by other police and fire agencies to the kindness of complete strangers, everyone who played a part agreed that it was one of the most rewarding assignments they have ever participated in as Houston police officers.

And they pray they never experience such kindness again under similar circumstances.

A middle-aged woman out getting her exercise stopped to talk to one of the officers involved in the preparation of the trip. “Is that the officer who was killed in the line of duty the other day?” she asked.

When told that it was and the officers were escorting him home to Oklahoma, her eyes watered up. She bowed her head, made a sign of the cross and said a short prayer. “Please, have a safe trip,” she implored.

Little did the officers know, this would not be the last sign of support the officers on this assignment would encounter on this assignment.

Reverence along the Way

The roar of the solos signaled that we were underway. Assistant Chief Charlie Vazquez, Honor Guard members Sgt. Jim Armstrong, Senior Police Officer Gene Sealy, Senior Police Officer Ronnie Blake and Officer Enrique Carbajal, Westside Division members Sergeant Darrin Chippi, Officer Phillip Hoss, Officer Angela Mulato and Vehicular Crimes Division Officer Cody Jarboe were honored to be heading north as part of the escort.

The able staff of Geo. H. Lewis and Sons also expressed its honor to be able to assist in this endeavor.

The Solos performed their solemn duty to escort the procession out of Houston. With a firm salute, they signaled that that duty ended as our group reached just south of Conroe.

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The procession stopped for gas in Madisonville. Several citizens took note of the HPD-marked shops which obviously were way out of their jurisdiction. The citizens inquired who the procession was for. Was it a fallen soldier? Was it a famous person?

When they were advised that a fallen comrade taking his final journey home to Oklahoma, they unconditionally expressed their sympathies. The sincerity of their condolences could be seen in their eyes.

The procession was refueled and lined up to continue the journey. As we exited the parking lot, men were observed removing their hats and women clutched their children tightly to display respect.

Crossing the south Dallas County line, the procession was met by two Dallas County Sherriff’s Office patrol cars. They took up positions in the front and rear. With their lights flashing, the procession continued north and picking up two more DCSO vehicles along the way. It wasn’t long before the Dallas Police Department also joined in.

Despite the inclement weather, the north side of Dallas became a sight to behold. Entrance ramps were blocked by various agencies. After the procession passed, the car or motorcycle previously blocking the ramp joined the procession.

There were too many agencies to count: Lewisville PD, Carrollton PD, Corinth PD, Denton PD, Cooke County SO, University of North Texas PD, Irving PD, Grapevine PD, Highland Village PD, Sanger PD, Gainesville PD. And on and on.

If an agency wasn’t blocking a ramp and joining the procession, its members were standing on the overpass rendering salutes and displaying American and Texas flags. Members of local fire departments stood side by side with the police officers. Citizens along the way also joined in.

The procession grew in number from three marked HPD units to more than 50 units from various agencies in the Dallas area. The line of blue and red flashing lights stretched as far as the eye could see.

Oklahoma: Amazing Grace

Approaching the Red River, the procession began dwindling in number until it was back to its original incarnation of three marked HPD units and two hearses. Then we crossed the Texas/Oklahoma state line.