A Houston police officer was killed and another critically injured after their helicopter crashed early Saturday morning as they were responding to a report of bodies in a bayou, the city’s police chief said.
The helicopter narrowly missed an apartment building, crashing around 2 a.m. in the complex between a pool house and a palm tree.
“Had they crashed into the building itself, it would’ve been without a doubt fatal” for residents of the complex, said the chief, Art Acevedo, at a news conference.
The pilot clearly maneuvered the helicopter so that it would not hit any residences, he said.
The complex, Biscayne Apartments, is part of a group of community apartment buildings that advertise affordable housing for families and people seeking a “quiet and peaceful lifestyle.”
“I don’t even know if he had time to broadcast the mayday,” Chief Acevedo said. He added that the pilot was dealing “with an emergency situation in a dark environment, in a night sky, in a heavily populated area.”
“I promise you that pilot was doing everything he could to avoid striking that apartment,” he said.
A forensic unit that was investigating a homicide in the area saw the helicopter spiraling and then go down in the northern section of Houston.
Witnesses in the apartment complex waved down rescuers and showed them where the officers were trapped inside the mangled wreckage. The helicopter was on its side and the two officers were pinned for an extended period, Chief Acevedo said.
Officer Cormier, 35, who was sworn into the department in July 2006, was “very banged up” and his injuries were “significant,” Chief Acevedo said.
“We’re hopeful he’s going to survive, but having said that, this is very traumatic,” he said. “When you have trauma, it can turn very quickly.”
Chief Acevedo said the Police Department was treating the crash as a homicide because an officer died.
“We will look at it from a criminal standpoint, again, to make sure there was no criminal activity that led to this tragic incident,” Chief Acevedo said.
Officer Knox, a tactical flight officer in the department’s air unit, was the son of a City Council member, Michael Knox, who also served as an officer in the Houston Police Department. Officer Knox, 35, was married with two young children, Chief Acevedo said.
Officer Knox joined the Police Department in June 2012. He was fond of restoring old police cars and had fixed up a 1996 Caprice to drive in the city’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in 2018. He told The Houston Chronicle that year that he was inspired by a visit to the Los Angeles Police Department Museum and its collection of vintage law enforcement vehicles.
“Jason will be missed but we will carry him in our hearts and in our memories,” Chief Acevedo said on Twitter. “When knocked down this man always got back up.”
Officer Joe Gamaldi, president of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, said Officer Knox had been in the Marine and Air Division for a little more than a year.
He had been in the passenger seat on Saturday, acting as “eyes and ears” in the helicopter. He planned to train as a pilot at the end of the summer, Officer Gamaldi said.
“It was always his dream job to be in that unit,” he said. “I think the only thing he loved almost as much as flying was restoring old police cars.”
The cause of the crash was unclear. The Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board are investigating.
It was also unclear on Saturday if the report of bodies in the bayou was legitimate, Chief Acevedo said, adding that it was “probably a bogus call.”
About an hour after the crash, officers responded to a report of a shooting near the scene and three people were arrested, Chief Acevedo said. The shooting was unconnected to the crash, he said.