GETTYSBURG, Pa. (AP) — A felon caught poaching deer and a state game warden who had him partly handcuffed engaged in a “ferocious exchange of gunfire” that killed the officer and wounded the suspect, who was arrested 11 hours later, authorities said.
David L. Grove, a 31-year-old wildlife conservation officer from Fairfield, was fatally shot Thursday night in a rural area near Eisenhower National Historic Site outside Gettysburg, police said. The suspect, Christopher Lynn Johnson, 27, told police he fled with the handcuffs locked on his left wrist and shot them off himself, according to a police affidavit. He was arrested at a hunting camp Friday morning.
Grove had witnessed what he suspected was illegal night hunting with a spotlight and had pulled over Johnson’s truck at about 10:30 p.m., police said. He had called in the license plate before “a ferocious exchange of gunfire” occurred, state police Commissioner Col. Frank Pawlowski said. Johnson and a passenger then fled, authorities said.
Police said Johnson had an apparent gunshot wound to the hip when he was caught, and he was treated at a hospital in York. Authorities recovered a dead buck near the crime scene.
Grove was shot four times, and the fatal wound was to his neck, Adams County Coroner Pat Felix said. He was the first Pennsylvania game warden killed in the line of duty in 95 years.
The license plate number that Grove called in “was a critical piece of information,” Pawlowski said.
“That gave us somewhere to go,” Pawlowski said.
Johnson, also of Fairfield, abandoned his truck and was limping on foot when he flagged down a motorist and asked for help, authorities said. The motorist took him to the hunting camp, and police were waiting when he arrived Friday morning. The truck was found nearby.
Johnson told police on the way to the hospital that he had shot Grove with a .45-caliber handgun, authorities wrote in an affidavit.
“He advised that he was a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and did not want to go back to prison,” the investigating troopers wrote.
He also told officers he had thrown the weapon into the woods after shooting off the handcuffs.
Police filed charges of homicide, weapons and game offenses and other counts, and Johnson was expected to be arraigned by videoconference late Friday. Adams County District Attorney Shawn Wagner said he would likely seek the death penalty. Court officials said Johnson didn’t have a lawyer.
“This was a malicious act,” said Pennsylvania Game Commission spokesman Jerry Feaser.
Grove enjoyed hunting and fishing and was an avid golfer, said Robert Criswell, regional director for the game commission.
Johnson’s 19-year-old passenger, Ryan Laumann, was described by police as a cooperating witness. The affidavit said that Laumann told investigators he left the scene with Johnson without helping Grove and that after a few minutes he repeatedly insisted that Johnson let him out.
Johnson stopped the truck and did so, then drove away, Laumann told them.
Laumann’s lawyer, Steve Rice, said that his client gave police information that may have helped them track down Johnson but that charges could be filed against Laumann.
“I would think that that’s possible, but not homicide,” Rice said. “I think he understands the gravity of the situation.”
The last Pennsylvania Game Commission officer to be shot and killed in the line of duty was Joseph McHugh in Weatherly, Carbon County, on Nov. 7, 1915.
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