Hundreds pay respects to former officer slain on turnpike
Hundreds of people paid their respects Saturday to retired York City Police Officer Ron Heist, who was killed March 20 during an armed robbery on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
The 1 p.m. service was held at the York Expo Center’s Utz Arena, where the line for visitation stretched almost to the entrance of the auditorium. An estimated 300 to 400 people attended the service.
Several police vehicles were in the parking lot, and police officers in and out of uniform filed into the arena. Heist worked for the York County Parks Department after retiring from the city police force in the 1990s, and several park rangers were among the mourners as well.
York City Mayor Kim Bracey and city Police Chief Wes Kahley were also in attendance, as were employees of Schaad Detective Agency.
Shooting: Heist, 71, was on duty for Schaad, working a Pennsylvania Turnpike security detail 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.
The memorial started with an invocation and prayer from the Rev. Marc Heldreth, followed by opening remarks from Schaad Detective Agency's Russell Wantz, who spoke briefly about his relationship with Heist.
"Ron was more than just an employee for me, he was a lifelong friend," Wantz said.
Speakers: Music was played by a York County Police Pipes and Drum corps, followed by the speakers, state Sen. Scott Wagner, R-Spring Garden Township, and retired York City Police Officer Denny Smith, a close friend of Heist's.
"Ron's death is a tragedy and a huge loss for our community," Wagner said.
Wagner commended Heist's nearly 50 years of service, between his time in the military, as a police officer, a park ranger and an employee of Schaad.
"Ron must have enjoyed being around people," he said.
Wagner mentioned that his mother had known Heist, calling him a "good guy."
"If my mother said Ron was a good guy, I'm sure thousands of people knew him as a good guy," he said.
Smith started as an officer for York City Police around the same time as Heist, and like Wagner, Smith noted Heist's years of service to the community.
"When he came out of his mother's womb, he was wearing a badge," he said.
Smith said what happened to Heist was a tragedy, made even worse by the fact that another officer of the law had taken Heist's life.
After the remarks, law enforcement officers were given a carnation to place at the front of the auditorium and salute Heist, followed by an honor guard presenting a flag to the family.
Remembered: Chief Kahley commended Heist's actions the day he was killed.
"He did his job honorably that day," he said.
As others had done, Kahley praised Heist's years of service.
"You look at the things Ron did in his life, it was all about service," Kahley said.
York County's Chief Park Ranger Gerald Ford remembered Heist as man who enjoyed nature and wasn't a big fan of paperwork. Ford said Heist once held his position as chief but stepped down to keep working as a park ranger. With fewer responsibilities, he was able to go out into parks and enjoy his work.
"He loved it out there," Ford said. "He loved the job, he really did."
— Reach Christopher Dornblaser at email@example.com.