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Sgt. Judson D. "Judd" Cornwall
(March 15, 1877 July 10, 1926)

In 1907, a one-mile dirt oval race track opened at Central and Florence avenues in Los Angeles. The owners named it Ascot, after the famed horse-racing track in England.

L.A.'s first Ascot track closed in 1919. Five years later, the Ascot Motor Speedway, a five-eighths-mile, banked oval dirt track, opened in Lincoln Heights, at Soto Street and Valley Boulevard. The new Ascot track was an immediate success -- on its opening day, 35,000 fans watched former Indianapolis 500 winner Ralph DePalma win the main race. The track regularly attracted the top names in racing, including previous and future Indy 500 winners.

As the premiere auto racing track in the Los Angeles area, Ascot also attracted its share of film celebrities, including Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, Clara Bow, Loretta Young, Edward G. Robinson, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Bing Crosby. Often, the actresses would present trophies to the winners.

Ascot also gained an infamous reputation as a "killer track" -- in its 12 years of operation, two dozen drivers were killed while speeding along its treacherous banked turns, more deaths than at any other race track in the country during that period.

On Saturday, July 10, 1926, Sgt. Judson D. "Judd" Cornwall, 49, of the LAPD's Lincoln Heights Station, was assigned to work a security detail at the Ascot Motor Speedway. His wife, Nellie, and one of their three daughters also came to the track that evening, among about 3,000 spectators.

Cornwall was born March 15, 1877, in Middletown, Ontario, Canada, one of six sons of Daniel and Adeline Cornwall. On Dec. 13, 1898, Cornwall married Nellie Maude Scandrett. Their first daughter, Adeline, was born on May 12, 1901, and named after her father's mother. The family moved across the border into Ohio, where a second daughter, Charlotte, was born on Dec. 19, 1902, and named after her mother's mother. After moving to California, their third daughter, Nellie Bly, was born on April 4, 1906, and named after her mother. Later that year, on Oct. 30, Cornwall joined the LAPD. In 1914, Cornwall passed the sergeant's exam, and was promoted.

At the time he was assigned to the Ascot security detail, Cornwall had been working out of the Lincoln Heights Station for nearly 20 years, and was a well-known and popular officer in the community and among his fellow officers. He was also about three months away from being eligible for retirement.

Just before 9:30 p.m. during the evening races, Cornwall was standing near the pit area along the inside edge of the track on the main straightaway, directly across from the grandstand, when cars driven by Bill Bundy and Jack Petticord were coming out of a turn and heading toward the pits.

Petticord's car was high along the outside rail on a turn, then slid down the track, where his left front wheel locked with the right rear wheel of the car driven by Bundy. The two cars were then hit by a third car, driven by C.D. "Pop" Evans, and the three vehicles skidded together toward the pit area where 21-year-old driver Nick Guglielmi was standing close to the track. Guglielmi had competed in a race earlier that evening and was having a conversation in the pit area, apparently unaware of what was happening on the track.

According to witnesses, Cornwall ran into the crowded pit area to warn Guglielmi and other drivers and mechanics to move away from the track, just as the three vehicles slammed into them. Cornwall and Guglielmi were crushed to death; Petticord suffered a fractured skull, broken leg and other injuries; and Bundy suffered a cut on his leg. More than 20 others were also injured.

Cornwall left his widow, Nellie, and their three daughters -- Adeline, 25; Charlotte, 23; and Nellie Bly, 20. He was buried at Grand View Memorial Park in Glendale. (Nick Guglielmi was buried at Hollywood Memorial Park, now Hollywood Forever, with an image of a race car on his crypt marker.)

The deaths and injuries continued at Ascot Speedway until Jan. 25, 1936, when driver Al Gordon and his riding mechanic, William E. "Spider" Matlock, were killed when their car spun out and hurtled backwards over an embankment on the track's dangerous south turn. It would be the last race ever held at Ascot Speedway.

Three months later, a fire, initially thought to have been caused by an electrical short, destroyed a large section of the grandstand. Nearly seven years later, a 25-year-old former custodian at the track confessed to starting the fire. "I saw Al Gordon and Spider Matlock killed out there," he said, "and when the track was closed a short time later, I thought maybe they might reopen it after a few months and kill some more of my friends, so I decided to burn the grandstand down." The man was not charged, since the statute of limitations for arson had expired.

The location of the Ascot Motor Speedway is currently occupied by the Woodrow Wilson Senior High School, Multnomah Elementary School, and a housing development.

Cornwall's sign is on the east side of North Mission Road, at North Broadway, in front of 4002 North Mission Road.

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