A 17-year-old suspect allegedly stole a bus from a local vehicle lot and led police on a chase that ended in an officer-involved shooting — only the second in the 68-year history of the DRPA.
By Matt Skoufalos | July 22, 2019
A West Deptford teenager is accused of stealing a school bus from a local transportation dealer Sunday night, allegedly kicking off an interstate highway chase that ended in a police shooting on the Walt Whitman Bridge.
Details in the case are still developing, but Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) CEO John Hanson said it’s only the second officer-involved shooting in the 68-year history of the agency.
West Deptford Police Chief Sean McKenna said the bus was taken from an unfenced lot at the H.A. De Hart & Sons dealership on Crown Point Road. The brand-new vehicle was being prepped for delivery to the neighboring Holcomb Bus Company when it was stolen.
De Hart Operations Manager Charles Chaplick estimates the theft happened between 11:30 p.m. and midnight Sunday. The vehicle was found by DRPA police at 12:40 a.m. Monday, crashed against a guardrail on the Walt Whitman Bridge.
It’s the first time the company has had to deal with such an incident.
“This business has been around for 135 years, and there’s never been a bus taken off the lot,” Chaplick said.
A West Deptford police officer first observed the bus driving erratically in the area of Crown Point and Mantua Grove Roads, McKenna said. When signaled to stop, the driver instead entered I-295 at Exit 19, and officers pursued northbound.
The bus finally pulled over around Exit 21, but when the officer exited his vehicle, the driver allegedly sped off, McKenna said. Police followed until Exit 25, when the situation was deemed unsafe, and supervisors called off the chase.
DRPA officers were alerted to the incident when they discovered the bus, crashed on the bridge. Farther up ahead, a masked man appeared to be walking away from them, and into Eastbound traffic, Hanson said.
The man allegedly brandished a knife, and ignored officers’ instructions to stop, he said.
Two officers then fired several shots, acting out of concern for their own safety, Hanson said.
The suspect was wounded, but is in stable condition at an area hospital, McKenna said.
Charges are pending, but have not yet been announced.
DRPA offered its full account of the incident in a statement issued Monday:
When officers arrived at the crash scene, they observed a masked individual leaving the scene of the accident and walking eastbound in the traffic lanes of the bridge. The suspect failed to comply with officer’s commands and began to walk into oncoming eastbound traffic.
The suspect wielded a knife and began walking towards the officers. The officers began to back up while the suspect continued to ignore commands to stop.
The masked suspect suddenly charged at the officers with the knife in hand giving the officers no choice but to discharge their weapons, striking the individual. Once the suspect’s weapon was secured, DRPA officers immediately administrated first aid.
The suspect was subsequently transported to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and remains in stable condition. The DRPA officers were evaluated at an area hospital and have been released.
The suspect has only been identified as a 17-year-old West Deptford resident. The shooting will be reviewed by a special unit of the Philadelphia Police Department, which has jurisdiction over the case, Hanson said.
What is unclear to authorities, at least initially, is how the vehicle got into the eastbound lane on the bridge, where the confrontation occurred, after having entered the roadway from South Jersey.
It took investigators until 8:30 a.m. Monday to clear the scene fully for normal traffic, Hanson said.
This is a developing story. More details will follow as we have them. Stick with NJ Pen for updates.
All persons charged with a crime are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law. An arrest is not a conviction.
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