The 1920s was a busy decade for local law enforcement officers. The advent of the automobile and improved road systems provided people with freedoms not realized by their predecessors. Where it might take a person several days to ride a few hundred miles on horseback, he could travel through a number of states in the same amount of time in a car. Prior to 1929, when the California Highway Patrol was formed, county traffic squads were charged with enforcing traffic laws in the unincorporated areas of the state. Initially, the San Joaquin County Traffic Squad was attached to the Sheriff’s Office, and its officers were full-time deputies.
Sunday morning; February 5, 1926. Jim Devine crawled out of bed and began a new day. Many things were happening in the young officer’s life and he was anxious to get going.
Jim had joined the county traffic squad in January 1925. He loved his job and took pride in his appearance, his uniform, and his motorcycle. Some of the other guys in the squad liked the look of a grizzled veteran, taking the support band out of the inside of their eight-point uniform hat to give it that “fifty mission crush”. Having dull and scuffed boots gave them the look of a real road warrior. But Jim didn’t see things that way. He took care to make sure that his hat stayed in such a condition as to look like it did the day he first wore it. His uniform was nicely fit and his boots were kept clean and shiny, despite the dust and dirt he collected every day on the roads.
Jim was living with his parents 01’1 North Ophir Street (Airport Way) in Stockton at the time, but that was soon to change. He and his fiancee, Miss Eleanor Jenkins, were planning to get married in April, just two short months away. Jim had an infant cousin named Charles Kelley, who had been orphaned. He and Eleanor were going to adopt the baby.
Jim completed shaving and splashed some water on his face. His mom was in the kitchen making breakfast and yelled at him to get a move-on. His partner, Leo Johnson, was going to be there in 10 minutes. Jim hurriedly got dressed, putting on his uniform motorcycle breeches and white shirt. He took care to tie his bowtie just right. He was an officer, and he had to exhibit a professional image to the public. He then strapped on the belt holding his handcuffs and holster. He grabbed his revolver from its safe hiding place and put it in the holster: Making sure his citation book was in place in the right front pocket of his uniform overcoat, he took one last look at himself in the mirror.
Jim was just finishing breakfast when a knock came at the back door. “Come on in,” said Mrs. De Vme, pouring Leo a cup of coffee. After some pleasantries, Jim kissed his mom goodbye, and the two men departed.
Leo started his Harley, which was parked at the curb, while Jim retrieved his bike out of the garage. Once outside he opened the petcock on the gas tank, and with great care jumped up and gave a heave on the kick starter. Sometimes that bike could kick you back, but good! After a couple more kicks on the starter, the motor raced to life, smoke coming out of the dual exhaust pipes. “Where we headed today, Leo?” Jim asked. “Boss says he wants us down in the Tracy area today, Jimmy,” Leo replied.
Making their way over to EI Dorado Street, the two officers rode south out of Stockton on Highway 50, the Lincoln Highway. Although it was a cold winter morning the heavy uniform overcoats and leather gloves helped. Jim loved the feel of the brisk wind on his face, the feeling of freedom that his job as a motorcycle officer afforded him.
Crossing the Mossdale bridge, the officers began patrolling their beat. Working together, they looked for speeders and other traffic violators.
The morning had been rather uneventful, being a Sunday. At about noon, Jim and Leo were patrolling the highway west of Tracy when an automobile went flying by in the opposite direction. The officers looked at each other and yelled, “Let’s get ’em!”
Johnson made his turn first and headed after the speeder. DeVine turned and started to make up for lost time. Grabbing the gearshift lever of the motorcycle with his left hand while depressing the clutch with his foot, he rapidly shifted gears and accelerated, turning the throttle with his right hand.
By this time Officer Johnson and the speeder were quite a distance ahead of him. Then disaster struck. Traveling at somewhere around 70 MPH, a nail embedded itself in Jim’s front tire.
W.R. Lewis and John Pedro were standing in Pedro’s front yard at the time the chase started, and according to Lewis, the officer’s motorcycle began to buck. In horror, the two men watched as Officer DeVine was thrown from the motorcycle, flying through the air for a number of feet before landing on his head and shoulders on the hard roadway as the motorcycle skipped and skidded.
Immediately, Lewis and Pedro went to Jim DeVine’s aid. They loaded him into Lewis’s car and set out to find the officer’s partner.
Leo Johnson had meanwhile stopped the speeder. He had passed a gas station during the chase, so when he looked back and didn’t see Jim, he figured his partner had stopped at the station.
The Lewis car, with Jim De Vine unconscious in the back seat, pulled up as Leo wrote a ticket to the speeder. Wasting no time, Leo took the lead and cleared traffic for Lewis en route to the doctor’s office in Tracy.
Dr. J.F. Doughty made a hurried examination of Devine’s injuries. Finding them too serious for him to treat there, the doctor had him transferred to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Stockton. There, doctors performed an operation.
Jim lingered in a coma for several days, as his family and friends hoped and prayed for his recovery. But it was not to be. At approximately 1:15 o’clock on Wednesday, February 8,1926, James Devine died
According to a local paper one of the largest funerals ever held in Stockton up to that time was held for James on February 10. Services were held at St. Gertrude’s Church, and at the family home on Ophir Street.
James Devine was laid to rest in a family plot in the San Joaquin Catholic Cemetery in Stockton.