Three Wild Police Chases on the Streets of D.C.

If you lived in D.C. in the 1980s, seeing a police chase screaming down K St., or any other major thoroughfare, was not a rare occurrence.

So, out of the thousands of chases mentioned in the newspaper archives, we have selected three to share in our next “Three Things …” post.

1. Rum runners crash into Library of Congress

Bootleggers and rum runners. Washington had its fair share in the Roaring Twenties. Below is an article we came across from March 11, 1928 about a wild police chase of rum runners, through the streets of D.C.

Speeding at 70 miles an hour through Southeast Washington streets early yesterday morning, an alleged rum runner, closely pursued by police, lost control of his machine, which crashed into the stone wall surrounding the Library of Congress. Unhurt, the driver of the car and his companion jumped and fled, but were captured. Two hundred and forty half-gallon jars of corn whisky were confiscated, police said.

Those held are Robert Thomas Burgess, 32 years old, charged with reckless driving, illegal possession and transportation of liquor, and Patrick E. Foley, transporting and possessing.

They were captured by Sergt. George M. Little, member of the police flying squadron, and Robert F. Cornett, Federal dry agent, who was recently exonerated by a Baltimore Federal court in the killing of Gundlach, St. Marys County, Md., farmer.

The chase began when the “dry” squad stationed themselves at the District line, on the Marlboro pike, to await the arrival of the suspected liquor car. In a previous skirmish, the machine had escaped, Sergt. Little had said.

Their quarry flashed past at a high rate of speed, and the police car swung into pursuit, which led through Alabama avenue to Good Hope road, and Naylor road to Pennsylvania avenue southeast.

Swerving to avoid wrecking a milk wagon at Second and B streets, the driver of the fleeing car lost control and it plunged into the wall, from which it glanced to an electric light pole, about 200 feet distant. Mowing down the pole the automobile again collided with the wall, and bounded back into the street, where it came to a stop against the curbing.

run runners wreck at the Library of Congress (Washington Post)

run runners wreck at the Library of Congress (Washington Post)

2. An 80-mile-an-hour chase from Chevy Chase Circle

Six months before D-Day, a wild police chase through from Chevy Chase to Georgia Ave., NW, ended in a massive crash and fireball. Behind the wheel was a young man in the navy from Bainbridge, Maryland. Below is the report in the Washington Post on January 7th, 1944.

An 80-mile-an-hour chase involving police scout cars and an automobile stolen from an undertaking firm, ended early yesterday when the auto, driven by a young sailor, crashed into the brick columns of a bus barn at Georgia ave. and V St. nw., and caught fire.

The sailor, Charles Steven Thornburg, attached to the Naval Training Center at Bainbridge, Md., suffered a broken leg, possible skull fracture and internal injuries. His condition as described as critical at Garfield Hospital.

The chase began when police observed the car at Chevy Chase Circle. They started pursuit and reported via two-way radio to Charles Clay, jr., police radio dispatcher. Clay assigned other scout cars to the chase, and the speeding car was later seen at Georgia ave. and Peabody st. nw.

The chase continued south to Park rd. as reports were flashed to Clay, who dispatched other scout cars to the vicinity with instructions to block the street. Finally reaching V st., the auto piled up against the brick columns. Segments of the radiator flew off and broke a plate glass window across the street at 2113 Georgia ave. Fire apparatus and an ambulance were dispatched there.

The wrecked sedan was stolen from Joseph Gawler’s Sons, Inc., 1756 Pennsylvania ave. nw, police said.

police chase wreck - January 7th, 1944 (Washington Post)

police chase wreck – January 7th, 1944 (Washington Post)

3. Officer Rainey chases ‘em down on his Harley

Officer Maurice A. Rainey, Park Policeman, gives you two chases here for the price of one. The first was a report we found in the Washington Post from October 2nd, 1921.

Park Policeman M.A. Rainey, who was reprimanded by Judge Mattingly in the Police court early in the week for alleged “wild west tactics” in bringing a speeding motorist to a halt, was yesterday commended for his work by Col. C.O. Sherrill, superintendent of public buildings and grounds.

Col. Sherrill conducted an investigation into the incident, and after a hearing in his office yesterday stated that Rainey’s “actions were beyond criticism and were most admirable.” He expressed his appreciation of the aid given Rainey in making the arrest by Serg. F. Wilson, Gen. Pershing’s chauffeur, and Park Policemen C.D. Fortner and O.E. Morgan.

Rainey’s second major chase, as reported by the papers was on Sunday, February 26th, 1922.

An exciting chase between Park Policeman Maurice A. Rainey, stationed on the speedway, and an alleged bootleg automobile through the streets of the northwestern section, early Sunday, resulted in the machine crashing into a tree at Twenty-sixth street and New York avenue northwest, wrecking it. The alleged bootleggers escaped. The bootleggers threw a quantity of Scotch whisky, Rainey declared, from the the speeding machine. The wrecked car was confiscated by the police and revenue agents. When the bootleggers jumped from the machine Rainey abandoned his motorcycle and gave chase on foot, but was outdistanced by the negroes.

Officer Rainey is pictured in the photograph below, posing on his sweet Harley, in front of the White House. He’s no Officer Sprinkle, but still … pretty cool.

At the White House gates. "M.A. Rainey, October 5, 1922." National Photo Company Collection glass negative.

At the White House gates. “M.A. Rainey, October 5, 1922.” National Photo Company Collection glass negative.

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