HOUSTON -- Friends and coworkers describe the HPD tactical flight officer killed in a helicopter crash early Saturday at a Greenspoint apartment complex as a dedicated family man with a penchant for restoring old, Oilers-blue police cruisers.
Jason Knox, 35, leaves behind a wife and two children. He is the only son of retired officer and Houston City Councilman Mike Knox. He joined HPD eight years ago and landed his dream helicopter assignment in January 2019.
“Our hearts are broken after the loss of an amazing officer,” HPD Chief Art Acevedo said Saturday morning on Twitter. “He was a great husband, father, son & friend. Above all else, he was a kind, gentle, generous, & honorable American. Our hearts go out to his family & all that knew & loved him.”
Knox and the helicopter’s pilot, 35-year-old Chase Cormier, were responding to reported bodies in the bayou just before 2 a.m. in the 17000 block of Imperial Valley near Benmar when the aircraft careened into the apartment clubhouse. A medical examiner working a nearby homicide saw the helicopter go down “out of rotation,” HPD Chief Art Acevedo said.
Residents of the apartments waved down crews, and the officers were extracted from what Acevedo called “very mangled wreckage.”
Acevedo commended the crews that responded to the wreck and worked to extract the two officers, who he said were trapped for some time. Fire departments units “worked feverishly” to get them out.
Officials said it was a miracle that the pilot was able to avoid hitting buildings.
“There was a lot of fuel that was spilled on the scene, and as you can imagine, that fuel is very flammable,” Acevedo said. “They put their lives on the line, as far as I’m concerned, they earned the medal of valor tonight when they were in that environment.”
They were taken to Memorial Hermann Hospital, where Cormier remains in critical condition after surgery. The chief said he is “very banged up, some significant injuries, but we’re hopeful he will survive.” Police picked up the officers’ families and brought them to the hospital shortly after the crash.
HPD escorted the fallen officer from Memorial Hermann Hospital.
Doug Griffith, vice president of the Houston Police Officers' Union, described Cormier as an avid pilot of both fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. He'd obtained his pilot's license before joining the Air and Marine Division, Griffith said. Cormier joined the division in 2017, police said.
The National Transportation Safety Board said it is investigating the crash of the MD 369E chopper, though it is not traveling to the scene at this time. Acevedo said multiple gunshots were reported as police and fire crews worked the crash, and six people were taken into custody.
Acevedo said investigators aren’t sure if the gunfire was aimed at the helicopter or played a role in the crash, but said police helicopters regularly come under fire across the country.
“We don’t have anything at this point to indicate hostile action played a role in the crash,” he said, “but we’re approaching the investigation with a wide net to make sure we don’t miss anything. We owe it to Knox’s family and Chase's family and the community. That’s just what we do in these situations.”
Mayor Sylvester Turner asked the city to lift up the Knox family.
“This is a sad morning,” Turner tweeted. “I ask our city to pray, uplift, and bring comfort to them during this time. “
Knox began his law enforcement career in 2006 with the constable’s office in Harris County’s Precinct 5. He moved to Spring Valley police in 2008 and was sworn in as a Houston officer in June 2012.
He was also a cop car aficionado and history buff. He ran the Instagram account “VintageHPD” for sharing old photos of Houston police officers on the job. His last post — about two hours before the crash — was to show off his Oilers-blue 1996 Chevrolet Caprice that he patched up in 2018 to resemble how the Houston patrol cars of his childhood used to look. His father used to drive him to school in similar, but older models.
The car was too old for a 1,400-mile road trip so he shipped his Caprice to Washington D.C. to be part of the National Police Week parade. There, the family of Houston police Sgt. Kent Kincaid, shot and killed in 1998, spotted his famed car and tracked him down to say hello.
The vehicle was similar to what Kincaid would have driven during the final years of his career.
Months after completing his Caprice project, Knox spoke to the Houston Chronicle about his penchant for restoring old police cruisers. He had plans to remake more cars, he said. For the Caprice, he scavenged old emergency light bars, computer consoles and other car parts to build his ride. He even found a unique paint code under the hood of a chopped-up police car near Hobby Airport to have his vehicle match the Oilers football uniforms.
At the time of the interview, Knox was part of HPD’s Public Affairs Division. Even then, he gushed at the prospect of transferring to their helicopter unit. In January 2019, he got the job.
“If you ever saw Jason driving around in one of his restored Houston PD cruisers, you could see his pride in being an HPD officer,” the Houston Police Officers’ Union said. “Officer Jason Knox is the best of who we are and we will miss him dearly. Jason watched over us, from above, and we know he will continue to do so.”
A Houston police lieutenant said on Twitter the sound of 75 FOX, as the helicopter was known, “arriving on a scene is one of the most calming sounds an officer can hear. They are the eyes in the sky & do amazing work. Today our hearts are heavy. Prayers to these officers & their families.”
Knox’s father, the city councilman, released a statement from the family that read in part: “We celebrate all Jason embodied as a committed HPD officer and pilot who fully embraced his job and we celebrate Jason as he was outside of his work — a devoted husband, a loving father and our only son whom we cherished every day.”
Last year, Knox was among two officers involved in a hard landing at Hobby Airport. The helicopter tipped over on Knox’s side, but both officers escaped without serious injuries. The pilot involved in that incident retired soon afterward.
Knox called the helicopter his “best office ever.”
From the Hobby Airport hangar, he had a view of Tropical Storm Imelda as it rolled into Houston — standing by for calls and watching the rain with a pint of Blue Bell ice cream.
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