Saturday, September 02, 2000

Grief pours forth, questions linger


Officer, 12-year-boy kill each other

By Jane Prendergast
The Cincinnati Enquirer

crayon
Crayon
mathis
Mathis
        What should have been a routine encounter between a Cincinnati police officer and a boy went terribly wrong early Friday morning, leaving them both dead and officials desperate to know why.

        The Tristate awoke to the news that for the fourth time in less than three years, an area police officer had fallen in the line of duty. This time, it was Officer Kevin Crayon, a 40-year-old father of three teen-agers whose final job shortly after 12:30 a.m. began so simply: with a request to see a driver's license.

        That request, made routinely every night by police officers everywhere, erupted into a frightening and confusing sequence of events along one of Cincinnati's busiest streets.

INFOGRAPHIC
How it happened
        Less than 30 minutes later, an officer lay dead in the middle of an intersection; two drivers who had witnessed the officer being dragged had vanished; and a 12-year-old boy who, officials said, should have been safe at home in bed, was fatally wounded.

        “For that incident to deteriorate into the death of two individuals is very troubling,” Cincinnati Police Chief Thomas Streicher said.

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Cheviot police officer Mark Denney and son Adam pay their respects at the Cincinnati Police Memorial.
(Tony Jones photo)
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        The sequence began when Officer Crayon stopped at the United Dairy Farmers store on Colerain Avenue in Mount Airy just after 12:30 a.m. He told someone in the store that he thought a boy getting behind the wheel of a maroon Ford Taurus parked outside was too young to drive.

        He was right.

        The boy, Courtney Mathis, of the 5400 block of Bahama Terrace, turned out to be a child whose friends and neighbors say loved to sneak out late at night and drive his mother's car when his family was sleeping. He was 12.

        What happened next raises more questions than anybody in the Cincinnati Police Division could answer Friday — or maybe ever, Chief Streicher said.

        According to police, Officer Crayon asked Courtney for his license. When the boy refused and began instead to back out of the parking lot, the officer reached into the Taurus with both hands and tried, his colleagues think, to grab the keys.

        That didn't work. The boy gunned the engine, dragging the officer more than 800 feet down Colerain Avenue.

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An officer reflects at the crime scene.
(Glenn Hartong photo)
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        A dozen chilling calls reporting the confusion rang in to city and Hamilton County dispatch centers.

        The first, at 12:42 a.m., from an employee of Thornton's at the intersection where Officer Crayon lay, reported a man hit by a car. In the background, a customer yelled, when he realized who it was: “It's a cop!”

        “Officer down at Colerain and North Bend,” a crying woman reported. “Officer down! Hurry up. Oh, please hurry up.”

        Officer Crayon had shot Courtney just before falling off the car in the intersection of Colerain and North Bend Road.

        Officer Crayon died there, in the street.

        His body had dropped under a car that remained unidentified all day Friday. His white hat lay in the intersection for hours, tagged as a piece of evidence.

        The boy died later, shortly after 5 a.m. at Children's Hospital Medical Center, after making it home to his mother's Bahama Terrace apartment and collapsing on her living room floor.

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Vicki Travis (center) pauses as she speaks about her brother, Officer Crayon. With her are aunts Sandra King and Jacki Stafford.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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"People make mistakes'

               At a Friday evening news conference, some of Officer Crayon's family thanked the community for the outpouring of grief and generosity.

        Two aunts and a sister were joined by Scotty Johnson, president of the Sentinel Association of black Cincinnati officers. All said that while the death of Officer Crayon was regrettable, their emotions were directed toward forgiveness rather than anger.

        “People make mistakes,” Jackie Stafford, an aunt of Officer Crayon, said of the boy's family. “All we can do is pray for them.”

        The boy's family issued a brief statement, saying they were grieving and expressed their “deepest sympathies to all persons affected by this incident.” They declined to comment further, saying they would wait for results of the multiple investigations.

        Courtney's friends mourned, too.

        “Nobody could ever imagine that something like this would happen,” said Selena Freeman of Clifton, who works with Courtney's mother. “He was the cutest little happy-go-lucky kid you'd ever seen.”

MORE COVERAGE
  • Officer Crayon 'always looked for the good side in people'
  • Courtney Mathis tried to grow up too fast
  • Crayon funeral arrangements
  • Police seek witnesses
  • Officer broke with procedure, police say
  • 'Gray cloud' over District 5
  • PULFER: Gratitude to 'watchmen' must endure
  • Officer dies every 54 hours in U.S.
  • List of Cincinnati officers killed in line of duty
  • Borgman cartoon

  Enquirer.com archives of recent killings and attacks on Tristate officers:
  • Daniel Pope and Ronald Jeter
  • Mike Partin
  • Kathleen Conway

        The boy's mother dialed 911 to report her son's chest wound. Sobbing to a dispatcher and barely audible, she said he came in to the apartment and said only that he had been shot by a police officer. The car belonged to a relative, police said, and Courtney's family did not know he had taken it.

        The incident closed the otherwise busy intersection until 8 a.m., making drives to work and school almost impossible. Dozens of officers took part in the investigation, from questioning the many witnesses to standing guard at the nearly 1-mile-long crime scene.
       


Kids out at night

               Neighbors along North Bend Road said they often see children — some even younger than Courtney — roaming Colerain Avenue well after midnight.

        “They're all over the place pretty much all night long,” said one man who lives within a block of where the officer's body was found. “They're in the convenience stores, the parking lots, all over. The cops are up here all the time.”

        The officer's death rattled the 1,000-member Cincinnati Police Division. Officers across the Tristate covered their badges with the black bands that will remain for the customary 30 days. Flags were lowered to half-staff, and flowers showed up within hours at the Cincinnati Police Memorial.

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Officers listen to Chief Thomas Streicher address the media
(Tony Jones photo)
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        Officer Crayon's name soon will be etched into the black granite memorial just below those of officers Ron Jeter and Daniel Pope, killed in December 1997.

        “It's just a horrible, horrible tragedy,” said Keith Fangman, president of Queen City Lodge No. 69 of the Fraternal Order of Police. “It's fitting that we honor this officer for the hero that he is.”

        Early in the morning, as news of the shocking events first echoed throughout the city, Mr. Fangman also lashed out at the young driver.

        “And in reference to the question as to whether the suspect was armed: He was armed, with a 2,000-pound chunk of metal called an automobile, which resulted in the murder of our officer brother.”

        Officer Crayon's death is the fourth for District 5 officers since that grim December day almost three years ago when partners were shot trying to serve a warrant. The district, headquartered on Ludlow Avenue in Clifton, also lost Officer William Estes in June. He had just completed a night shift and lost control of his motorcycle on his way home.
       


Arms inside

               Colleagues of Officer Crayon say they wish they knew why he stuck both his arms inside the boy's car. Such a move goes against an officer's hours of training, but witnesses said the UDF parking lot was full of other people, including children.

        “I'd like to believe that the officer was somehow attempting to save those children,” Chief Streicher said.

        They said they wish they knew why a boy with no juvenile record wouldn't just stop when the officer told him repeatedly to do so. They wish they knew the identities of the two other drivers who sat at the North Bend Road intersection, but fled before officers arrived. Officer Crayon landed under one of those vehicles.

        Chief Streicher pleaded repeatedly Friday for help piecing together the unusual case. Anyone who might have seen anything, he said, should call homicide detectives at 352-3542.

        But, unfortunately, the chief said, investigators might never know what turned a simple request for a driver's license into such tragedy.

        Ted Schoch, director of the Cincinnati Police Academy, said he is baffled by what could have led a 12-year-old, who at most faced a smatter of misdemeanor charges, to set in motion such a chain of events.

        “Nothing is black and white,” Mr. Schoch said. “That's why we have people doing the job and not robots.”

        Mayor Charlie Luken said Cincinnati will grieve.

        “One thing we do know is that this cop died in the line of duty,” he said, “serving this city.”
       

        Reporters Howard Wilkinson, Dan Horn, Michael D. Clark and Robert Anglen contributed to this story.

Officer Crayon 'always looked for the good side in people'
Courtney Mathis tried to grow up too fast
Crayon funeral arrangements
Police seek witnesses
Officer broke with procedure, police say
'Gray cloud' over District 5
PULFER: Gratitude to 'watchmen' must endure
List of Cincinnati officers killed in line of duty
Officer dies every 54 hours in U.S.
Borgman cartoon



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