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Retired York officer victim in Pa. Turnpike shooting

STAFF AND WIRE REPORT
Police investigate at exit 180 off of the Pennsylvania Turnpike where a toll booth worker at the Fort Littleton Exchange was shot early Sunday, March 20, 2016 in an apparent robbery attempt. Authorities say a turnpike employee and another worker were shot and killed in the robbery attempt. The suspect in the shooting was also killed. (Daniel Zampogna/PennLive.com via AP)
  • Retired York City Police officer Ronald Heist, 72, was a security guard
  • "He was just a great guy," former York City officer Barry Bloss says

FORT LITTLETON, Pa. — Even after retiring from the York City Police Department in the 1990s, Ronald Heist kept a hand in law and order.

He worked as a security officer for the Parks and Recreation Department of York County after leaving the force, according to former Coroner Barry Bloss, who was a city officer at the time, and never left that security-type role.

“He’s been the same thing, even once he retired,” Bloss said.

Heist, 72, was working for Schaad Detective Agency Sunday morning, guarding a fare collection vehicle, when he was killed during an attempted robbery on the Pennsylvania Turnpike Sunday morning, according to authorities. A tollbooth worker and the suspect also died during the crime.

The robbery attempt occurred at the Fort Littleton interchange in Fulton County, state police said.

Clarence Briggs, a former state trooper who retired four years ago, confronted two Pennsylvania Turnpike toll collectors with a handgun at the toll plaza in Dublin Township, 65 miles west of Harrisburg, police said. Briggs ordered both into an adjoining office and tried to tie them up but fled after a struggle, authorities said. Both employees left the building as a fare collection vehicle arrived and Heist emerged, state police said.

Briggs then shot and killed one of the toll collectors, Danny Crouse, who had been on the job for less than three months, and Heist, Capt. David Cain said.

Briggs then fired at the fare collection vehicle, Cain said, and after the driver fled he jumped into the vehicle and drove it to his car, which was parked at the end of a service ramp a few hundred yards away. He started unloading money from the collection vehicle, Cain said.

Troopers arrived within minutes, and the first trooper exchanged shots with Briggs, who was wounded and died at the scene, police said.

Briggs, who was from Newville, retired in January 2012 from the Newville station of Troop T in Cumberland County, which is part of the turnpike system. Cain, the commander of Troop T, said it was possible Briggs had been waiting for the collection vehicle, but he declined to comment on whether an investigation was focusing on the retired trooper’s familiarity with turnpike operations and collection procedures.

Police investigate at exit 180 off of the Pennsylvania Turnpike where a toll booth worker at the Fort Littleton Exchange was shot early Sunday, March 20, 2016 in an apparent robbery attempt. Authorities say a turnpike employee and another worker were shot and killed in the robbery attempt. The suspect in the shooting was also killed. (Daniel Zampogna/PennLive.com via AP)

Ex-York officer: Bloss, the former York County coroner and city police officer, said Heist was a patrol officer for the department, starting sometime in the mid-1960s and retired sometime in the mid-’90s.

While he said the two were never “car partners,” they did know each other. Bloss said he saw Heist at retired officer meetings and funerals of other officers.

“He was just a great guy,” he said. “It’s just sad when you see (these) kind of things happen.”

Safety: Turnpike chairman Sean Logan vowed at a news conference at a turnpike maintenance facility in Shade Gap that officials would "expend whatever resources necessary and make sure we find out exactly what transpired this morning and to make absolutely certain that our system is secure and that our employees are protected."

Logan said such an event had happened only "a handful of times" in the 75-year history of the turnpike, which extends 360 miles across the state.

"Our system is very secure, very safe," he said. "We just want to make sure if there's more we can do that we will do it."

He described the Fort Littleton stop as "one of our lowest-volume" interchanges, and officials said there was no indication why it was targeted.

The other turnpike toll collector, who was uninjured, was home resting and recovering but planned to return to work in a day or two.

Briggs, officials said, retired after 26 years with an honorable discharge, and there was no indication of the reason for his actions.

— Staff reporter Christopher Dornblaser contributed to this report.