The driver who led police on a 100-mph chase through two counties last night before crashing into a Cranberry police car and falling more than 20 feet from an overpass on Interstate 79 died today of his injuries.
Thomas William Booth, 22, of Volant, died at UPMC Presbyterian in Oakland, where he was taken by medical helicopter after he and a Cranberry Township police officer fell more than 20 feet from the overpass in Jackson Township. He was pronouced dead at 10:53 a.m. Tuesday, according to the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's office.
Cranberry Police Cpl. Dan Hahn, 47, underwent surgery at Allegheny General Hospital on Pittsburgh's North Side for serious injuries to his neck and back. John Skorupan, president of Cranberry Township’s Board of Supervisors, said Hahn, an officer with Cranberry for more than 20 years, is expected to recover from his injuries.
“The neck injury is not as serious as we first thought,” he said. “He did have a little bit of feelings in his toes before the surgery, so that’s a good thing.”
State police said both men were hurt during a pursuit that began shortly before 11 p.m. on Blackburn Road in Sewickley Heights and involved five police departments from Allegheny and Butler counties.
Tpr. Bradley Christie said the chase began when police who were patrolling in Sewickley Heights saw Booth, who appeared to be intoxicated, parked in a gray Ford Escape in the lot of Blackburn United Methodist Church. When the officers tried to pull him over, Booth refused to comply and drove off, according to police.
Police followed him onto I-79 North, starting the 20-mile chase along the busy highway.
Police Chief Norbert Miklos, whose officers also patrol in nearby Sewickley Hills and Aleppo Township, said he was entering the highway after leaving another investigation in Neville Island when he heard a radio transmission from Sewickley Heights officers, saying they were pursuing the car.
“Two of my cars began pursuing,” Miklos said.
It wasn’t long before one of the Ohio police officers dropped out of the chase. Miklos said one of his officers was too far away and couldn’t catch up to the pursuit. The second officer continued just past the Route 910 exit before calling it quits, Miklos said. None of the Ohio Township officers was injured in the pursuit.
“Our officers were right at the Cranberry line. They pulled off the interstate. One pulled off a lot sooner,” Miklos said.
Officers from other departments pursued the car north out of Allegheny County, into Cranberry and on into Jackson Township, where township police deployed spikes on the highway to deflate the tires of the Ford. The Ford slowed after its tires deflated, and Hahn attempted to block the Ford by pulling around it, Tpr. Christie said.
The cars collided, and Booth got out and jumped over a nearby jersey barrier on an overpass in an effort to escape from police. He fell 22 feet to the ground near Tollgate Road below the highway. Hahn followed the driver over the barrier and also fell.
"They apparently weren't aware of the jump," Christie said.
Police from multiple departments swarmed to the crash scene, initially believing one of the men had been shot.
Skorupan called Hahn an outstanding officer and said he is well known in the Cranberry community.
“He’s a very, very good officer,” he said. “I know this has upset a lot of people.”
Cranberry Public Safety Director Jeff Schueler said Hahn helped start the department's traffic unit and aided with traffic accident reconstruction. Through the years, the department has been recognized several times by the American Automobile Association in promoting traffic safety.
Hahn, a married father of two adult children, now supervises the patrol squad, according to Schueler.
"He's one of the family here," he said.
State police said they believe Booth was driving while intoxicated. It wasn’t his first brush with the law. In June 2007, Booth pleaded guilty to theft from a vehicle in Butler County and was sentenced to 12 months probation, according to court records. He also had a record for minor offenses in Mercer County, court records show.
Sewickley Local Editor Larissa Dudkiewicz contributed.