On the night of October 19, 1940, Deputies Ezra Stanley and Carl Pryor were patrolling along Pacific Coast Highway between Sunset Beach and Huntington Beach when their car was struck from behind by a car driven by Ray Dolan, a Huntington Beach cafe operator.
The car was knocked into a post that was part of a wire fence along the highway. The front bumper was torn off by the post and the car skidded on as the gas tank caught fire. The car finally came to rest 152 feet from the point of impact.
Pryor was either knocked from the car or he crawled from it, but his efforts to free Deputy Stanley were in vain. Deputy Stanley was unconscious and wedged tightly in the car. The vehicle was completely burned from dashboard to rear. Stanley was burned beyond recognition and Pryor was hospitalized with burns and other injuries.
Dolan, who had been drinking with friends, claimed the accident was a head-on collision and he did not know how it happened. He was arrested by Huntington Beach Police for negligent homicide, drunk driving and drunk.
The Coroner’s jury determined the cause of death to be “being burned to a char while in the discharge of his duties as a Deputy Sheriff” and found the cause to be “negligence on the part of Dolan in operating his automobile.”
A LOOK AT THE PAST
Captain Ed Hendry
Ezra Stanley was born on August 21, 1890, in Butlerville, Indiana where he grew up and married. He and his wife, Bernice Hayes, moved to California in 1981 and made their home in Yorba Linda. He was Deputy Constable in Fullerton Township for three years and became a Deputy Sheriff in 1934. Records indicate that Stanley was an experienced and mature Constable when Sheriff Logan Jackson hired him as Deputy Sheriff. A report states, “It is a rare and invaluable police officer who can refrain from an occasional policeman’s strut, but none of Ezra Stanley’s friends ever saw him in that attitude.” “One of his peculiar talents was the ability to perform his duties . . . and still retain the friendship of everyone with whom he had to deal.”
Perhaps it was these qualities that caused the new sheriff, Jessie Elliott, to retain Stanley when Elliott took office in 1939 and terminated many of the former Sheriff’s deputies. The Monday evening shift one briefing began much as they do today except all units were two-man cars. A short time later Deputy Ezra Stanley (age 50) and his partner, Carl Pryor (age 32), were parked on PCH between Sunset Beach and Huntington Beach. At about 2 a.m. on Tuesday, November 19, 1940, their patrol unit was rear ended by a drunk driver traveling at a high rate of speed. The patrol unit was sent skidding and spinning down the highway. The unit hit a fence post with such force that it tore off the front bumper and ejected Deputy Pryor. The car skidded on as the gas tank caught fire. It came to rest 152 feet from the point of impact, Deputy Pryor, himself injured, hobbled to the crushed and burning car. Although two doors were knocked open by the crash, the unconscious Deputy Stanley was so tightly wedged that Deputy Pryor was unable to free him and received burns in his attempt. Two citizens, Paul Curtis of Seal Beach and Horace Bailey of Fullerton, the first motorists on the scene, also made unsuccessful attempts to pull Deputy Stanley from the burning car.
Two officers from Huntington Beach PD were the first officers on the scene. They arrested the driver for drunk driving and negligent homicide. The driver thought it had been a head on collision.
The first Deputies to arrive were Harry Nuffer and Oliver McCarter. Deputy Pryor was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Orange.
Services were held at the Smith & Tuthhill Funeral Chapel in Santa Ana on November 23, 1940. Deputy Stanley was survived by his wife Bernice (who had been secretary to superior Court Judge Homer G. Ames), his mother, and two daughters, Irene and Doris.
Ezra Stanley was the second Orange County Deputy Sheriff to die in the lie of duty. Like most of us he had family, career, and perhaps retirement plans when his life ended at age 50 and the lives of his family were changed forever.
Hunter Leach, secretary of the Orange County Peace Officers Association, was instructed by that organization “to get a metal strip to be placed on the Squires monument for Ezra Stanley who lost his life in the performance of duty.”
That strip on the Headquarters monument, a plaque on the Peace Officers’ memorial, and a marker at Fairhaven Cemetery are all that remains of Deputy Ezra Stanley. Bernice joined her husband nearly 40 years later and is beside him at Fairhaven Memorial Park in Santa Ana.
None of knew Ezra, but we now know something about him. He, like the others on our monuments must never be forgotten.