Friends remember Ron Heist, retired cop, county park ranger, dog lover
Retired York City Police Officer Ron Heist loved people, whether that meant serving them as a police officer, educating them as a park ranger or simply shooting the breeze and making new friends.
"He was a man of integrity," York County Chief Park Ranger Gerald Ford said. "I'm just devastated for his wife."
"Ron was the kind of guy who wanted to be the best he could be," said fellow retired city cop Dennis Smith. "He just wanted to be a good cop."
Heist was 71 but stayed in great shape and didn't look near his age, according to his current boss, Schaad Detective Agency owner Russ Wantz.
He worked for Schaad Detective Agency in York for six years, said Wantz, who's known Heist for half a century.
"He's been a figure in the community for years," Wantz said. "He's known by a lot of people and highly respected. ... I don't think you could have found a nicer guy, a guy with a better disposition. He was liked by everyone he ever interacted with and worked with."
Heist was on duty for Schaad working a Pennsylvania Turnpike security detail Sunday at the Fort Littleton toll plaza, west of Harrisburg, when he and a Turnpike worker were fatally shot.
They were murdered by retired Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Clarence Briggs, who robbed an armored car collecting fare money, police have said. Before retiring, Briggs had been assigned to the Turnpike, officials have said. He was shot and killed by responding state troopers, police said.
Federal bankruptcy records state Briggs and his wife filed for bankruptcy a year ago and at the time had debts of $315,000, according to an Associated Press report.
On Monday afternoon, the state Senate held a moment of silence for Heist and the other Turnpike worker, and Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, on the Senate floor (see below for video).
'A cop's cop': Heist was hired by York City Police in November 1965 and retired in January 1995, according to York City Police Chief Wes Kahley.
"He was a good guy — a cop's cop," Kahley said. "He was a good patrolman and good with the public. He was an easy guy to talk to."
Heist found his niche in the patrol division and never aspired to become a detective or ranking officer, according to Smith.
"Truth be known, the patrol officer is the backbone of the police department," Smith said. "They're on the front lines all the time."
Heist's people skills and strong decision-making abilities were just two of his strengths as a patrol officer, according to Smith.
"He loved to do what he was doing, no two ways about it," Smith said.
Dog lover: In the late 1960s he became part of the city's former K-9 corps.
"It was when he went on K-9 that he developed this love for dogs," Smith said.
After the program was disbanded in 1970, Heist stayed at it, training dogs for other police departments. He also trained dogs for Schaad Detective Agency, Wantz confirmed.
York City Firefighter Bill Sleeger Jr. knew Heist from the time he was a kid and his father, Bill Sleeger Sr., was a city cop. He recalled Heist as a great guy who loved police work — and dogs.
"He was really into training German shepherds, he really enjoyed it," Sleeger Jr. said. "He actually helped train my first dog. ... I was fortunate to be able to grow up around guys like that."
After retiring as a patrolman, Heist became a York County park ranger. He remained a park ranger until December 2009, according to York County spokesman Carl Lindquist.
Ranger Ron: Heist rose to the position of chief park ranger but sought and received a move back to regular park ranger because he didn't want a desk job and had no love of paperwork, according to Ford, who has been York County's chief park ranger since 2000. Ford also is a retired York City police officer.
"We've been friends for many, many years," Ford said. "He was a great family man — a great father, great grandfather, great husband and a great friend."
Both Ford and another former York City police officer, Larry Brunner, said Heist helped them get jobs as park rangers after they retired from the force.
"He appreciated so many things — the trees, the outdoors, the animals," Brunner said. "We went for hikes on trails together. ... We'd take the Jeeps where they weren't supposed to go and got stuck a number of times."
'A lot of fun': Brunner said Heist was sharp and professional when dealing with the public, but also was funny and fun-loving, interested in meeting people and making new friends.
"I never heard one person say a bad thing about Ron," Brunner said. "He was just a great guy. He was a lot of fun all the time."
Ford said Heist also wanted to be out hiking trails so he could work with people and help them.
Heist's friends and former colleagues say he was heavily involved in Schutzhund dog training. The word is German for "protection dog."
But at home, his love of dogs extended beyond the regal German shepherds he trained.
"He had a little wiry dog at his house, feisty as hell," Brunner said. "That dog was just the love of his life. He'd sit on his chair and eat potato chips with that dog."
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at firstname.lastname@example.org.