It was a genuine baptism of fire for a local man who was part of a high-speed chase in central Pennsylvania.
Christopher Warden, a 2012 graduate of New Hope-Solebury High School and 2016 graduate of Susquehanna University is a deputy sheriff in Lycoming County, where Williamsport is the county seat.
Warden was part of a group of law enforcement officers honored by the Williamsport Sun-Gazette as its 2018 Persons of the Year.
“We do so in recognition of not only their bravery one particularly violent night in late 2017, but also their willingness to put the protection of the public beyond their own safety on a daily and continuing basis in an era when police have come under intense scrutiny.”
In November 2017, Warden was involved in a high-speed chase that ended in a shootout. Last October, Warden and the other deputies involved in the shooting were recognized by the Lycoming County commissioners.
Mark Nance wrote an account of the incident for the Williamsport Sun Gazette. “Law enforcement around Lycoming County came together as one force the night of Nov. 7, 2017, when a gunman wounded a city policeman and lead officers on a wild high-speed chase west of the city.”
The chase on Route 220 involved eight city police officers, the state police, the sheriff deputies, and officers from other communities.
“On election night 2017, a gunman shot and killed another man in a home in the 2300 block of West Third Street, wounded a city police officer who was chasing after him and then turned a portion of Route 220 into his own shooting gallery as he fired from his Dodge Charger on officers who were pursuing him,” Nance wrote.
“State troopers as well as numerous other law enforcement officers from surrounding communities pursued the gunman, Paul Heath, 27, of Philadelphia, clear to the Jersey Shore Thomas Street interchange and then back toward Linden, where Heath, still firing his weapon, pulled into the Sheetz store on Route 220, forcing customers inside and outside the business to dodge for cover.
One officer was wounded in the chase. “The hair stood up on my arms when I heard Carrita’s radio silence. He wasn’t answering and you could hear the panic in the voice of the officer who was trying to reach him,” Warden said.
A city police officer en route to the initial shooting scene, picked up Carrita and drove him to the UPMC Susquehanna Williamsport Regional Medical Center.
Warden and Nick Lade joined the pursuit as they came from the east.
“Very shortly after that, we heard on the radio that another city officer had gone to Carrita, grabbed him, and radioed that Carrita had suffered a gunshot wound. The city officer was taking him to the hospital,” Warden said.
“When I heard that he (Carrita) had actually been wounded, I had like a heart-sinking feeling. It definitely made the reality of the circumstances a lot more powerful,” Barto recalled.
The shooting of Carrita was the first time in Williamsport Police Chief David Young’s nearly 30 years in law enforcement that an officer under his command had been shot in the line of duty. Young is a former state police commander in Montoursville.
“We called every available officer that we could,” Young said, adding that there were routine calls such as domestic disturbances and accidents “that still had to be dealt with.”
Warden, Nance wrote, a sheriff deputy since July 2016, said he felt more confident that Heath would be stopped as he noticed all the police officers that were now joining the chase.
“I remember thinking we obviously had a sufficient number of units involved in the pursuit. Seeing all the lights and hearing the sirens coming up and down over the hills on Route 220, I knew the Charger was clearly outnumbered,” Warden said.
“I almost felt relaxed, seeing all those brothers and sisters in blue were there. It was all hands on deck. He was not going to get away.”
With the pursuit continuing, Heath turned off at Pine Run Road and pulled into Sheetz.
Nance noted, from a state police report: “Heath entered the parking lot where multiple civilians were entering and exiting the store and pumping fuel, and where a gun battle ensued with multiple police officers from multiple agencies.”
“The way our vehicle was angled, I didn’t feel comfortable exiting the vehicle because the shots were coming our way. I felt I was better off firing from my spot,” Warden said.
“He started firing at us, firing in a northern direction. As he moved west in the parking lot, he started shooting at officers at the southwest entrance to Sheetz,” Warden added.
The gunfire ended when Heath suddenly shot himself.
“It felt like forever,” Warden said.
Response from so many police was remarkable. They spoke about the brotherhood that exists among police from different units.
“Our officers, as did other officers, put themselves in harm’s way, and in doing so, protected the patrons and employees of Sheetz,” Sheriff Mark Lusk said.
Warden is the son of Michael and Katie Warden of New Hope and grandson of Franca Warden of Doylestown.