University of Houston officer killed in wreck

December 24, 2010 2:48:32 PM PST
A University of Houston police officer died Friday morning after she apparently lost control of her police unit and crashed into a tree.

Twenty-four-year-old Ann O'Donnell is the first UH Department of Public Safety officer to die in the line of duty.

This wasn't the way Christmas Eve O'Donnell was supposed to have. Flowers and cards offering condolences were placed at the base of the tree where she crashed.

"The driver's side was completely bashed in," Ernie Carter Howard said.

Howard says she'll never forget the scene from early Friday morning in her front yard, where she found the remnants of a mangled police car that had just hit her tree.

"And so I just started yelling, 'Are you OK? Are you OK? Can you hear me? Can you hear me?'" she said.

Inside the police vehicle was O'Donnell. She'd been responding to a call regarding an assault at a nearby restaurant. Police say she lost control of her vehicle on North McGregor.

Howard says emergency crews spent 30 minutes getting O'Donnell out of the vehicle.

"They eventually cut the door off to get her out," Howard said. "And she did have a pulse when she left."

O'Donnell died on the way to the hospital.

Flags have been lowered outside the UH Police Department, and its Facebook page contains and ever-growing list of condolences.

O'Donnell had been an officer only since November 2009. By all accounts, she loved her job and was good at it.

"Very personable, very excited, starting her career and really looking forward to what she was doing and had a firm desire to serve the public in any way that she could," UH Police Chief Malcolm Davis said.

Her friends describe her as a great person with a great heart. And even those who knew O'Donnell for the briefest moment, they say they're touched by her death.

"It makes me count my blessings. Tomorrow is not promised," Howard said.

O'Donnell has family in Galveston. We spoke briefly this afternoon with O'Donnell's father. James O'Donnell says he is "deep in denial" over his daughter's death.

He describes Ann O'Donnell as a woman with a "great sense of humor, great compassion and a great sense of justice." If you run, he says, "she's gonna catch (you)."

Mr. O'Donnell says his daughter loved being a police officer, that she worked the night shift on purpose because it was her favorite shift.

The Houston Police Department is handling the actual investigation into the car wreck. They say more information will become available after they look at a box inside her patrol unit that's designed to track speed and other details.


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