Here’s a ‘war story’ for you

Editor’s Note: As Badge & Gun readers should well know, retired HPD Homicide Lt. Nelson Zoch is an avid HPD historian. His account of HPD line-of-duty deaths, Heroes of the Bayou City, was sold out very soon after its publication about 10 years ago. Herewith, Lt. Zoch recounts a unique HPD ‘war story.”

Once, a long time ago, there were two HPD rookies. They came from completely different backgrounds and met while in the HPD Academy. They became very good friends while in the Academy and after their six-month probationary period wound up on the same shift-the late side on the night shift out of Central Patrol.

After their probation, on several very rare occasions, they were placed together in the same patrol car for a shift. They greatly enjoyed these nights and worked together very well.

Eager HPD Rookies

They worked well enough that they got together and approached roll call sergeant to very carefully request that maybe they could become partners.  This request was met with a very negative response with the sergeant explaining that we were actually two mere rookies. He said that this request was actually rather ridiculous.

Okay. They decided. So be it for now.

Several months passed with this two-man team together on the streets maybe once every week or so. One night after roll call the two were summoned to speak with the roll call sergeant – not the same one they had previously reported two with their strange request.

This supervisor was very kind and explained to them that they would become training officers and that we would be assigned to teach younger officers the ropes by riding with them. This was just totally amazing, as only a short time ago it was explained to us that we were mere rookies (which we were).

This was mentioned to the roll call sergeant in as politely as possible. He explained to us that he and the other sergeants had been observing us and that they now felt that we knew what we were doing and that we were ready for this next step.

In actuality, we learned that the officers that had been training us were tired of that burden and now it was our turn. The time frame here becomes a bit cloudy. After all, it has only been about 53 years ago.

Anyway, one night at roll call, we were assigned to ride together on the night shift paddy wagon, which was very unusual since that unit was not run very often. But we were partners that night and were determined to make the best of it.

As we recall, our radio call number was something like 610 or 611 in the downtown area.  If there were a Vice or Narcotics raid during the night, of course we would be pressed into service whenever needed.

As I said before, these two rookies were in some respects completely different.  One was much more mature, with a wife and four children, while the other was younger with probably much more daring and stupidity at this stage in the career cycle.

As fate would have it, the more mature one was driving that night and getting used to driving this “bread truck van” was a difficult task. I joked quite a bit about my partner’s driving that bread truck, which he grew very tired of and offered to let me drive.

I declined.

Together, we decided that we would just lay low that night and not drive any more than necessary.

In Hot Pursuit!

We were in the east side of downtown Houston in the area around Polk and Dowling when we stopped at a light and a fool busted the red light right directly in front of us.

Well, even the mature driving partner thought this was just too much to ignore.  He took off with his horn blasting as loud as possible.  I think I was hollering out the door as loud as I could for this fool to STOP!

Well, the adrenaline really began flowing and – before we knew it – we were in a chase right on his tail.  My partner got even more excited and kicked the speed up.    These paddy wagons had no red lights or sirens, but we were off and running.

I was trying to hold on as best as I could and on some fast turns, it was all I could do to keep from falling out the passenger door.  Our part of the chase lasted for probably less than a few minutes, but we were there when the fool turned right off Dowling going east onto what turned out to be a dead-end street.

The fools ran into the dead end with no place to go. My partner the bread truck driver and I just ran up and took both of the occupants of the speeding vehicle into custody without incident.  The backup unit got there almost immediately.  I had put it out on the air (not necessarily a good idea) that we were in the chase.

When it was all said and done, Sgt. Jess Foroi rolled up on the scene.  He was one of the finest supervisors there ever was, but he asked us which one of us was driving the paddy wagon.  My partner man upped it and Sgt. Foroi just calmly rolled his eyes and said he was surprised in that he thought for sure it was me that was running hot in a paddy wagon.

I think his parting comment was something like, “Y’all don’t do that again, okay?”

“Yes, sergeant,” we said.

As you can imagine, we caught a lot of kidding about that chase.  The rumor quickly spread as fact that while my partner was driving, I was holding my head out the right front door and performing my best imitation of a siren, going WHOOP WHOOP as loudly as possible.

No one else knew, but after all of the excitement was over, we had to back track on our route so I could find my clipboard and flashlight, both of which were lost on one of our sharp turns.

I cannot tell you how much we laughed about that night and the paddy wagon “bread truck” chase.  My partner called me recently. We talk on a regular basis and what a pleasure that is.  He told me, “You like to write about a lot of things and are very good at it.  Why don’t you write about this?”

He was right – about liking to write, anyway.  So, here you have it.

Long-lasting Partners!

And, by the way, if you don’t know now who these two rookies were, they were none other than ANTHONY CHARLES “TONY” VENTO and, yours truly, NELSON JAMES ZOCH.  From the Olympic Squad in Academy Class No. 37 (Tony needed to lose weight and I needed to gain a few pounds to quality).

This has been a friendship to write home about.  May the Good Lord continue to bless my friend and partner, Tony Vento.

All I can add is, MOMMA MIA, WHAT A SPICY MEATBALL!   Yeah, that was Tony’s favorite Italian delicacy way back then.

One more thing about Tony. As we were riding together, when it came time to find a place to eat at 2 or 3 a.m., he would say that he was only going to eat a salad.  He did and I would order an extra greasy chicken fried steak from Angel’s greasy spoon at 3200 Main.  He ate a salad, and I ate what I wanted.  He gained weight and at that time in our careers I didn’t.

Now, all of these years later, Tony has undergone several open-heart surgeries and is still perking.  I have not exactly treated myself kindly through the years, but Tony and I are still kicking and laughing about the good times.

I wish all of the best to Tony and his family.

Thanks to Tony for bringing this subject up and thanks for reading about this particular adventure and a partnership that I will never forget!

And, no, Tony didn’t resort to driving a real bread truck in his retirement.