SCRANTON, Pa. (AP) — A police officer who suffered a head injury in a fall while chasing three teenage robbery suspects died from his injuries Sunday, police said.
Scranton Patrolman John Wilding died a day after falling some 15 feet after jumping a fence in pursuit of a trio of 17-year-olds now in custody, police chief Carl Graziano said.
Graziano asked the public to "keep Officer Wilding and his family in your prayers during this time of sorrow."
Wilding, who leaves behind a wife and two children aged 3 and 7, is the first Scranton officer to die in the line of duty since Sgt. James Sable in 1986, according to information on a police memorial to fallen officers, The (Scranton) Times-Tribune reported.
Authorities said the pursuit began after officers trailed a suspected stolen sport utility vehicle, and three youths got out and fled at about 3:30 a.m. Saturday in West Scranton. Neighbor Rich Molnar was one of those awakened by the pursuit.
"The sirens first, and then the lights flashing, and the cops hollering, 'Stop! Halt! Drop! Put up your hands!" he said.
Graziano said a witness saw Wilding clear the fence, then fall.
About 200 people gathered Saturday night at a candlelight vigil for the officer outside Scranton police headquarters, near the memorial bearing the names of a dozen local officers who died in the line of duty.
The group sang "Amazing Grace" and shared their experiences of the young patrolman, who was said to enjoy policing so much he hated taking a day off.
Graziano called Wilding a model officer who never viewed a shift as work and did the job for his family and his community.
"I know it sounds canned, when you say that about John Wilding it's not," he said.
Restaurant owner Charlie Davis said he would text Wilding information about problems and Wilding would pass along the messages even if he wasn't on duty. When Davis heard that an officer had been hurt, a friend asked "Is that our guy?"
Tom Welby called Wilding "the type of guy you want to show up when you need a cop."