New bill would make it a felony if police officer is injured or dies during foot pursuit

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SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — The mother of a fallen Scranton police officer made it her mission to address the risks police officers face when chasing suspects on foot.

Tuesday, a bill designed to protect law enforcement during these dangerous encounters passed unanimously through the Pennsylvania senate judiciary committee.

It’s still too painful for Mary Wilding to appear on camera. The felony fleeing bill she helped create could help prevent other families from experiencing similar tragedies.

In 2015, Scranton patrolman John Wilding fell to his death while chasing three armed robbery suspects. The young officer’s death shed light on what Lackawanna County District Attorney Mark Powell called a “void in the law”.

“In a vehicle situation where we have an alluding a police officer statute, it would be when the lights are engaged, if you took off that would trigger it. Unfortunately, there’s just no such law when someone’s on foot,” Powell said.

A problem Wilding’s mother, Mary, was determined to fix.

“If something good is to come out of John’s death let it be to provide backup to his fellow officers this one last time,” Senator John Blake (D) 22nd District, said.

She helped lawmakers develop Pennsylvania Senate bill 1085. Later backed by Powell and a number of law enforcement organizations, the felony fleeing bill creates a new offense of “evading arrest or detention by foot”.

“If an officer is injured, it’s a felony in the third degree. If the death is caused, it’s a felony in the first degree,” Powell said.

The bill is designed to be a deterrent and a penalty for people who put officers and the public at risk.

Former Scranton police chief Carl Graziano says running after a suspect can sometimes be even more dangerous for an officer than a vehicle pursuit.

“They’re focused on catching up with the suspect that they’re chasing and there are obstacles they can encounter that can be very dangerous and in John’s case we did see that,” Graziano said.

Wilding was Graziano’s first hire as chief.

“He cared. He was in the profession for the right reasons. He wasn’t here for a job, he was here to truly, truly help people,” Graziano said.

Graziano says through this bill, Wilding will continue to do just that. The bill will now head to the appropriations committee then back to the full senate for a vote.

Wilding’s sister, Patrice gave a statement to Eyewitness News, saying–“If this bill becomes law, my only hope is that it may deter crime in the future and save other families the deep pain and sadness mine has known.”

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