Patrolmen, motorists, onlookers in risky position
SHAMOKIN - There were a thousand different thoughts running through the minds of Shamokin Patrolmen Raymond Siko II and Scott Weaver during their involvement in a Saturday-night standoff that ended with Greg Demage, 30, of Jim Thorpe, taking his own life.
"Number one, all that was running through my head: I did not want to see a cop get shot," Siko said Sunday. "That's ripping through my head. Second, I kept saying, please don't let us shoot him,"
Demage, who was a person of interest in the suspicious deaths of a Split Rock Resort couple, led dozens of officers from Ralpho Township to Coal Township on a high speed chase through multiple municipalities at speeds of 120 miles per hour. At the intersection of Route 61 and Luke Fidler Road, his vehicle stopped and he refused to exit the car. Less than 25 minutes passed between the chase and standoff that concluded when Demage took his own life with a gunshot.
"If a situation turns into a barricaded subject, everyone wants a peaceful resolution. That's everyone's goal," Siko said. "Best thing I can say, every officer there went to the academy. We received the training, and we just pray the training doesn't fail us."
He said training dictates that officers negotiate until that fails. At that point, someone would have to make a decision on how to proceed.
"If he wanted to wait 12 hours and talk and no one gets hurts, that's what you got to do," Siko said.
Shamokin Chief Edward Griffiths, who arrived at the scene following the suicide, explained that every situation is different.
"He was known to have weapons and we're not going to storm the car. You wait him out and do anything to get him out," he said.
Wrong place, wrong time
Kayla Ressler, of Luke Fidler, was one of several motorists that were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Ressler was traveling on Independence Street in Shamokin when the chase went by on Sunbury Street. Ressler continued on Route 61, but said she had no idea there was a chase until she reached the intersection.
"My car was the first one at the intersection. I was nose-to-nose with him," she said. "I thought about taking a photo, but then I realized something was wrong and quickly drove down towards the bowling alley."
Other motorists behind Ressler became blocked-in after traffic came to a stop and motorists at the front of the line were unsure what to do.
During the standoff, police transmitted over a speaker, "drivers on 61, go in reverse."
Motorists took heed to the warning and drove away from the scene. One motorist on Feeney Street, the roadway that leads from The Coal Bowl to the intersection at 61, traveled across the intersection to the nouthbound lanes of Route 61, despite a warning from police not to do so. The vehicle traveled just feet in front of the Cadillac.
Public in harm's way
One of the most troubling and frustrating aspects of the situation were motorists and pedestrians placing themselves in extreme danger by watching the final minutes unfold, Siko said.
Many civilians dining at McDonalds put their own lives in danger by walking out of the restaurant to see what was going on. Some seemed unaware of the situation, while others were more concerned about getting a photograph and video than their own safety.
News-Item photographer Mike Staugaitis witnessed a man sit down at an exterior table with his chicken sandwich to watch the dangerous event unfold. Photographer Larry Deklinski saw a man - who is not an officer - with the words "police" on his sweatshirt take a picture with his cell phone from directly across from the driver's side of the Cadillac.
"What if he (Demage) had taken a hostage? What if he did come out shooting? We had civilians there. What could we have done safely?" Siko said.
The people walking around were treating it like a joke, he added.
Weaver expressed similar frustrations.
"We didn't know if he was going to come out nicely. Is he going to shoot himself? Is he going to start shooting wildly? We didn't know," he said.
Siko and other officers were heard yelling, "Get inside! Run!" and "Get out of here" to various onlookers, but Siko said he doesn't regret offending anyone with his rough demeanor.
At one point, he and Coal Township Patrolman Terry Ketchem crossed open ground from the protection of their cruisers into the McDonalds parking lot to instruct people to leave their vehicles and retreat to safety.
"Today, I'm thinking, what if there were kids there and had to see what happened?" Siko said.
During the intense situation, Siko said he had many things to worry about from making sure he was covering his fellow officers, to protecting civilians and keeping from getting shot himself as he was exposed in the open.
Stellar police work
Siko praised Ralpho Township Patrolman Christopher Grow, who spotted the stolen vehicle Demage was driving near the intersection of Routes 54 and 487 in Elysburg.
He's an observing officer, engaged knowing the crime and handled the situation in an honorable manner, Siko said.
A message left with the police departments at Ralpho Township to talk with Grow and Coal Township to talk with Ketchem were not returned Sunday.
Griffiths said the situation was handled professionally.
"For as many agencies as you had working together, you couldn't have asked for a better turnout. These are small town officers, but, boy, did they do a good job," he said.
Siko described the cooperation between departments as "flawless."
"Obviously, we don't do this every day, but that's why we have training and that's why we continue to train," he said.