Patrolman Chester R. Burmeister of 652 N. Chillicothe Road, Aurora, Ohio, the beloved husband of Esther, father of Gloria and Sharon, son of Helen and Raymond, was appointed to the Cleveland Police Department on October 1, 1947.
On Wednesday, December 23, 1964, Burmeister, a seventeen year veteran of the police department, was struck by a northbound auto on the inner belt while performing his duties of directing traffic around the scene of a three car accident at St. Clair. Behind the wheel of the death car was a man who admitted he had been drinking at an informal, unsponsored Christmas party at a plant where he was employed.
Burmeister, 44, died shortly after arrival at St. Vincent Charity Hospital. When he was struck by the car, he was hurled into the air, striking the underside of a Pennsylvania Railroad bridge just north of the St. Clair underpass. He bounced off the bridge and back onto the car which had struck him. Burmeister was struck at 6:31 p.m. and died at 7:15 p.m. Hospital officials said Burmeister suffered fractures of both arms and legs, head and internal injuries. Accident investigators said he was struck so hard that both shoes were knocked from his feet.
Police said Burmeister had arrived at the scene to investigate the three car accident, parked his car close to the damaged cars in the west lane, and began directing traffic around them. He was hit a few moments later.
Burmeister was known to his fellow officers as a robust, hearty man who was full of fun and life. He had worked for many years in the Auto Unit of the police department.
Burmeister’s wife Esther was an assistant nursing supervisor at Suburban Community Hospital. She was on duty when notified of his death. Burmeister had two daughters from his first wife who had died in 1955.
On December 29, 1964, services were held for Burmeister at Donald B. Johnson Funeral Home, 521 Broadway, Bedford, Ohio. Policemen, relatives and friends filled the funeral home to pay their last respects to their fallen fellow officer and friend.
The driver of the car that hit Burmeister waived preliminary hearing on a traffic manslaughter charge and was bound over to the grand jury. Twenty minutes before hitting Burmeister, the driver had sideswiped a bus. When Euclid Police Sergeant Ralph Lemieux questioned the driver, he said, “I had been drinking for quite some time at the party but I didn’t know that I hit that officer.” Traffic Commissioner Sam C. Skerotes arrived at the hospital minutes after Burmeister died. Skerotes vowed to crack down more heavily on drivers who drink and then drive. “Policemen are used to seeing auto fatalities, but when it strikes close to home, we realize once more the tragic, serious problem of drinking drivers,” the Commissioner said. “Almost daily, police are exposed to the dangers of drinking drivers but rarely are police involved in accidents with them. The law of averages catches up. If only the public could have seen the mangled body of this officer, it would give them a vivid message for safe driving. We dread the approach of the holiday season for reasons like this death,” Skerotes said.
This tragedy was prelude to one of the wildest Christmas Eves in the memory of veteran police officers. Four homicides, three traffic fatalities, countless injuries in brawls and accidents, robberies, shootings, and missing persons and stolen property were recorded that year. Police attributed much of the activity to the springlike weather and excessive drinking of alcohol.
The needless death of Chester Burmeister provided the Cleveland Police Department with added strength and determination to make the streets safer over the holidays and throughout the year by removing drunken drivers from behind the steering wheels of their cars.
Chester Burmeister’s name is inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Wall, Judiciary Square, Washington, D.C., on panel 39, west wall, line 5.
By Recruit Scott D. Marek, Cleveland Police Academy