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Crash Claims First UH Officer to Die on Duty

Crash Claims First UH Officer to Die on Duty

Family Photo

The Houston Chronicle via YellowBrix

December 25, 2010

HOUSTON – A University of Houston police officer was killed early Friday when her cruiser struck a tree en route to a service call, authorities said. She was the first UH officer to die in the line of duty.

Ann O’Donnell, 24, was responding to a possible assault or kidnapping at the Wendy’s restaurant on Scott Street across from Robertson Stadium about 1 a.m. when her patrol car crashed into a tree.

Shortly after the university dispatch service lost radio contact with her, Houston police notified the department that one of its patrol vehicles had been involved in a single-car accident in the 4300 block of North MacGregor Way.

Police didn’t say whether the report of a crime at the restaurant was confirmed.

O’Donnell, a resident of the Indian Beach community on Galveston Island’s west end, died en route to Ben Taub General Hospital.

“She was a fine, dedicated officer, and we are deeply saddened by her death,” Chief Malcolm Davis of the university’s Department of Public Safety said in a statement. “Our hearts go out to her family, friends and fellow officers during this difficult time.”

A memorial to the fallen officer appears on the department’s Facebook page. Grew up in Galveston

Ann Nonette O’Donnell was born on March 25, 1986, in Nassau Bay to James V. O’Donnell and Nonette Elkins O’Donnell.

Known to friends and relatives as “Annie,” she spent most of her childhood in Galveston, graduating from Ball High School in 2004.

“She was a classic bifurcated human being. She loved fashion and she loved police,” James O’Donnell said, pausing to collect himself. “But she loved nothing more than being a police officer.”

After high school, Ann O’Donnell spent a year at the University of Houston, then moved back to the island and attended Galveston College for several years while working part-time retail jobs on the Strand.

Then, one day, she announced her intention to become a police officer.

After graduating from the Galveston College Law Enforcement Academy, O’Donnell earned her Texas peace officer certification and license in 2009 and spent six months looking for a job.

O’Donnell was hired late last year by the University of Houston police department and “loved every minute of it,” her father said.

Her life was focused mostly on working the night shift at UH.

“She was in constant competition with the guys to prove she could do the job,” James O’Donnell added. Residents first on scene

O’Donnell’s cruiser raced into a curve on North MacGregor and hit an oak tree in the front yard of a residence around 12:45 a.m. Friday, police said.

“My husband and stepson went out first, then they started screaming for me,” said the homeowner, Ernie Carter Howard. "We looked to see if she was alert. I tried to open the door, but we could not get it open. We just had to wait until help arrived.

“I did yell out to her to see if she would respond and she did not. We never saw any sign of consciousness. From the time we found her until the authorities arrived, we never saw her moving or moaning or anything like that.”

Howard, an attorney, said the scene was marked by lots of debris and a badly crunched vehicle. From O’Donnell’s position in the vehicle, it appeared the officer was wearing her seat belt, Howard said.

“The driver’s side was completely caved in, and (authorities) could not get the passenger door open,” Howard added.

Emergency responders removed the windshield to begin administering an IV, Howard said. Eventually, O’Donnell was freed through a wrenched-off passenger side door. Roadside memorial

By Friday afternoon, memorials including flowers and a teddy bear had been placed around the scarred oak. Howard said she plans to have the tree cut down because “it would be a constant reminder that someone lost their life there.” Howard said she will plant a new tree in O’Donnell’s memory.

“I think how fragile life is, how quickly things change, how precious life is,” said Howard, whose children are a little older than O’Donnell. “It’s a very sobering feeling. You come to realize that life can be here today and gone tomorrow.”

Along with her parents, O’Donnell is survived by a sister, Kathleen Sullivan, of Austin. Arrangements will be handled by the Carnes Brothers Funeral Home in Galveston. Services are expected to be held next week.


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