Family, Colleagues Remember Fallen Texas Police Sergeant as Natural Leader

Nassau Bay Police Kaila Sullivan was struck and killed by a fleeing suspect’s car while backing up a fellow officer during a traffic stop on Dec. 10, two weeks shy of her 16th year on the force and two months shy of 20 years of service.

Houston Chronicle
Nassau Bay Police Kaila Sullivan was struck and killed by a fleeing suspect’s car while backing up a fellow officer during a traffic stop on Dec. 10, two weeks shy of her 16th year on the force and two months shy of 20 years of service.
Nassau Bay Police Kaila Sullivan was struck and killed by a fleeing suspect’s car while backing up a fellow officer during a traffic stop on Dec. 10, two weeks shy of her 16th year on the force and two months shy of 20 years of service.
Harris County Sheriff's Office

NASSAU BAY, Texas -- Tim Cromie knew his work day as police chief was over when he would peer out the window of his office at the Nassau Bay Police Department and see Kaila Sullivan’s gargantuan truck in the parking lot, sitting about 3.5 feet off the ground, with large mud tires — a vehicular beast fit for a monster truck rally. Sullivan worked the night shift.

“I found out (the truck) was officially known as ‘Big Nasty,’” Cromie said Wednesday during his eulogy for Sullivan, who was killed while conducting a traffic stop last week. “Don’t ask me why, I don’t know, and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know. When Big Nasty was in the parking lot, I knew it was time for me to go.

“Not sure how I’m gonna know to go home now,” Cromie said, his voice cracking.


Sullivan’s monster truck was just one of her many idiosyncracies, a window into what Cromie remembered as her “larger than life” personality during a funeral Wednesday at Grace Church in south Houston. During a roughly 90-minute service that included an honor guard ceremony, Sullivan’s family and colleagues emphasized her sense of humor, passion for police work and leadership qualities that made her a pillar of a tiny community police force.

Sullivan, 43, was struck and killed by a fleeing suspect’s car while backing up a fellow officer during a traffic stop on Dec. 10, two weeks shy of her 16th year in the Nassau Bay Police Department and two months shy of 20 years of service as a police officer.

She was attempting to arrest a man wanted on a warrant related to a domestic violence case, but he managed to wrestle free from officers while being handcuffed, police said. He fled, hitting Sullivan as he drove away, according to court documents.

Sullivan’s death is the latest among a spate of Houston-area law enforcement killings in recent months. Sullivan was killed three days after Houston Police Sgt. Christopher Brewster was fatally shot responding to a domestic violence call in Magnolia Park. Harris County Sheriff’s Deputy Sandeep Dhaliwal was fatally shot in September during a traffic stop.

Tavores Dewayne Henderson has been arrested and is being held without bond on a capital murder charge related to Sullivan’s death.

Sullivan was one of two sergeants among 14 officers at the city’s police department. Nassau Bay is a city of just under 4,500 people, adjacent to the Johnson Space Center. She is survived by her wife, Tracey Sullivan, and a son, Kaden Senter, from a previous marriage, as well as two siblings and her mother.

Dozens of Houston-area law enforcement vehicles filled the parking lot of the church earlier Wednesday morning, with uniformed officers filing in to pay their respects to the sergeant. A giant American flag hung between two cranes in the church parking lot flapped gently in the cool breeze. A white Christmas tree outside the church greeted the funeral procession as mourners entered.

Inside the megachurch, a soft piano ballad played as people filled the church pews. A slideshow of Sullivan flashed on two screens on either side of the church stage — photos of her as a baby and child, and as an adult, smiling with her wife, son and various family and friends.

A leather motorcycle vest hung on a stand amid the floral wreaths and bouquets in front of the stage. The emblem on the back of the vest — a female skeleton riding a chopper with flames for hair flowing in the wind — represents the Sisters Eternal Women’s Motorcycle Club, which recently named Sullivan its national vice president.

Friendswood Police Chaplain Moe Mays, who read Sullivan’s obituary, said the sergeant had an innate ability to walk in a room and brighten everyone with an infectious smile, and “the best eyeroll this side of the Mississippi.”

He spoke of Sullivan’s free spirit — her love for “riding horses, driving fast cars, riding motorcycles and playing music” — but also her selflessness, a hallmark of a life in public service.

Cromie, the Nassau Bay police chief, told a story about a particular mentally ill man that his officers deal with frequently who called the police department after Sullivan’s death to share his sorrow for her loss.

“He told us Kaila had dealt with him on numerous occasions, and she was always very patient and kind to him,” Cromie said. “She cared about the people she served dearly.”

Cromie rattled off a list of her qualifications — bike patrol officer, a licensed police instructor, and mental health officer were among her many titles. But Cromie lamented discovering aspects of her rich personal life only after her death, marveling at the fact that she sang and played guitar, occasionally performing gigs at T-Bone Tom’s in Kemah.

Sullivan’s younger brother, Jared, hailed her leadership qualities, calling her his “role model” who “taught me how to dress, how to dance, how to be a gentleman.”

He recalled helping his sister study for her police exam before she was hired in Nassau Bay, memorizing codes and laws. And when Sullivan needed to demonstrate the requisite physical techniques of a police officer, he was a willing guinea pig.

“Of course, you should know how it went,” Jared Sullivan said. “Just like Nala and Simba in the Lion King, ‘pinned ya; pinned ya again.’”

Jared Sullivan said his sister’s passion for public service inspired him to enlist in the military, where he served a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2012.

“Whatever you learned from her, share it and pass it on. The world needs more people like Sgt. Kaila Sullivan,” he said.

Nassau Bay Mayor Mark Denman declared Dec. 29, which would have marked her 16th year in the police force, as Sgt. Kaila M. Sullivan Day.

At the conclusion of the service, Sullivan’s family and the hundreds of mourners exited the church for the honor guard ceremony.

Sullivan’s casket was wheeled out by her pallbearers: her brother, Jared, and five of her fellow Nassau Bay police officers. The Harris County Sheriff’s Office Honor Guard folded the American flag and presented it to Sullivan’s wife. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick handed her son a pre-folded Texas flag.

Sullivan’s casket was wheeled into a hearse, and the procession would make one last trip through the streets of Nassau Bay, where citizens lined the streets to pay their final respects to a beloved member of the community.

nick.powell@chron.com

———

©2019 the Houston Chronicle

Visit the Houston Chronicle at www.chron.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

More in Honoring the Fallen