The Lead

Senate Judiciary committee advances bill to increase penalties for people who evade arrest

By: - October 19, 2021 1:12 pm

Sen. John Yudichak, I-Luzerne, speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2021. (Screenshot)

Wanting to honor a Pennsylvania police officer who died on duty, a Senate panel has advanced legislation that would increase penalties for those who evade arrest.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12-2 on Tuesday to approve a bill that would create a new offense for individuals who flee from police to evade arrest on foot. 

The legislation sponsored by Sens. John Yudichak, I-Luzerne, and Marty Flynn, D-Lackawanna, came after Scranton police officer John Wilding fell to his death in 2015 while chasing three teenagers suspected of armed robbery. 

Though they were charged with Wilding’s death, the suspects pleaded to a lesser offense and received a sentence of nine to 18 years in prison, according to WNEP-TV.

“In less than a decade, these convicted criminals will be home with their families,” Yudichak said. “Officer Wilding’s mother Mary, his wife Kristen, and his two beautiful children, Lola and Sidney, will never get to enjoy the blessings of John coming home,” Yudichak said. 

Existing statutes prohibit fleeing police by vehicle, and the proposed legislation would update the law to include evading arrest on foot. Under the proposal, violators would be punished with a third-degree felony if an individual suffers “serious bodily injury” and a first-degree felony if someone dies because of the violation.

“Officer Wilding worked hard to protect Scranton, yet our law fell short in protecting him,” Yudichak said, quoting remarks Flynn made earlier this year. “With the passage of Senate Bill 814, let us send a clear message that we will protect every police officer who serves to protect us.”

The legislation includes additional language creating a separate offense for injuring a police animal while evading arrest. In November 2020, a K-9 with the Johnstown Police Department died after falling down an elevator shaft while searching for burglary suspects.

Though some Democrats on the 14-member panel voiced concerns over some constitutional aspects of the proposal, Sens. Amanda Cappelletti, D-Delaware, and Maria Collett, D-Montgomery, were the only lawmakers to vote against the bill.

“This measure will put some teeth into the law and hold those who harm police while fleeing on foot accountable for their actions,” Flynn said.

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