End of Watch: The Death of Pensacola Police Officer Curtis Jones, June 27, 1980

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Officer Curtis Jones

It was early in the morning – the quiet time, just before daylight – of Friday, June 27, 1980.  Officers Richard Powers and Curtis Jones were enjoying a peaceful cup of coffee. Suddenly, at 5:30 AM, a hurried call came over the radio. When officers work together all the time, they can tell by the tone of voice of their comrades when something wasn’t right. And something wasn’t right with Officer Tom Johnson’s voice. Tom called for help at the Oak House Lounge, located at 890 South Pace Blvd.

The Oak House Lounge sat at the edge of the city limits of Pensacola, right next to the old draw bridge that used to stretch across Bayou Chico, the city limits. It was frequented by locals, but it catered to the sailors who came from the Pensacola Naval Air Station for a good time. It was the closest bar to them in the city. On this night, Officer Johnson responded to a burglary call. When he arrived, the suspects were still inside. Johnson needed help – NOW. He called for any available units to respond[1].  

[1] Pensacola News Journal. https://www.newspapers.com/image/266443690/?terms=%22Curtis%20Jones%22&match=1

Curtis and Richard were about three miles away, so they responded. Curtis knew that, with his speed and endurance from running track and playing college soccer, he could catch the burglars if they ran. Both officers immediately jumped into their vehicles and sped south on Palafox Street to respond. Jones was driving a two-month-old 1980 Ford LTD. Recently the LTD models had been the subject of a national debate about the tires being substandard at high rates of speed.  As both officers were headed down Palafox Street, Powers had to stop at a red light, but Jones continued, driving 60-70 miles per hour. As Palafox Street heads south, it crests and heads downhill, limiting the visibility over the crest. A witness later told the investigator that he saw a lady crossing the road just past the crest, out of view of Curtis. It might have been part of the problem, but we will never know[1].

[1] Author interview with CSI supervisor (retired) Bob Grant. May 4, 2023

Curtis’ cruiser, courtesy of the Pensacola News Journal

Rick Powers couldn’t see down the hill on Palafox Street, but he could see the spectacular display of fire as Officer Jones’ car cut the power pole in half. When Powers arrived at the scene, he could tell that Jones, driving south on Palafox, had been approaching Yonge Street when his cruiser veered off the road. The car snapped the power pole and bounced off the building at 2401 N. Palafox Street before crashing into the Palafox Lounge. Officer Jones never regained consciousness. He died shortly thereafter. Whatever the cause, a pedestrian, a curb, whatever, it appeared that Jones lost control of his vehicle. The new police cruiser was demolished – almost cut in half.  

Monday, June 30, 1980: Three days ago, Curtis and Rick were having a cup of coffee towards the end of their shift. Today, the atmosphere was filled with the somber memories of a great man. Curtis was laid to rest. Amongst the shock and sadness of the tragic death of a hero, however, was a great ceremony that took place at the Crestview First Baptist Church.

After the funeral service, two lines of mourning lawmen were formed at the front door of the church. The community guardians stood at attention and smartly saluted as the honor guard exited the church carrying the body of their brother. Their stances were rigid, their faces like granite. But, in this case, there were traces of a tear in many eyes of the tough exteriors. After the body was ceremonially placed into the waiting hearse, the salutes were dropped, and each officer headed to his or her waiting police car for the ride to the cemetery.  

Good Hope Baptist Church, Baker, Florida

Good Hope Baptist Church is a small, country church with the Cotton Cemetery beside it. It sat on a small ridge at the intersection of Highway 189 and Olin Cotton Road. It was peaceful there…a good place to rest.

Seven months after the horrible crash, Mr. and Mrs. Valton Jones accepted the first Pensacola Police Department’s Blue Star award for their son’s heroism. The Blue Star represents an officer who gave the ultimate sacrifice to his community. Any officer who was injured or killed in the line of duty was eligible. It was nice, but it didn’t bring back their son. For many years thereafter, until their deaths, Mr. and Mrs. Jones dutifully attended the annual Pensacola Police Memorial. Maybe it somehow made them feel closer to him.

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