Officer investigating night hunting is killed

This map shows where Wildlife Conservation Officer David Grove, 31, was killed Thursday night in Freedom Township, southwest of Gettysburg. Christopher Lynn (inset) Johnson was detained Friday morning.

November 12, 2010 1:40:45 PM PST
A Pennsylvania game warden was killed in a shootout with a suspected deer poacher, who was arrested with an apparent gunshot wound at a hunting camp about 11 hours later, officials said Friday.

David L. Grove, a 31-year-old wildlife conservation officer from Fairfield, was fatally shot after he pulled over Christopher Lynn Johnson late Thursday night near Gettysburg, police said. Grove had witnessed what he suspected was illegal night hunting with a spotlight and had pulled over Johnson's truck at about 10:30 p.m., according to police.

Grove called in the truck's license plate before "a ferocious exchange of gunfire" occurred, state police Commissioner Col. Frank Pawlowski said. Johnson and his friend then fled, authorities said.

Police said Johnson had an apparent gunshot wound to the hip when he was caught, and he was treated at a hospital in York on Friday. Authorities recovered a dead spike buck near the crime scene.

Grove was pronounced dead at the scene. He had been shot four times and the fatal wound was to his neck, Adam County coroner Pat Felix said. He was the first Pennsylvania game warden killed in the line of duty in 95 years.

The license plate number that Grove was able to call in "was a critical piece of information," Pawlowski said.

"That gave us somewhere to go," Pawlowski said.

Johnson, 27, also of Fairfield, abandoned his vehicle at some point and was limping on foot when he flagged down a motorist and asked for help. The motorist took him to the hunting camp, and police were waiting when he arrived Friday morning. The truck was found nearby.

Johnson told police on the way to the hospital that he had shot Graves, authorities wrote in an affadavit. "He advised that he was a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and did not want to go back to prison," they wrote.

Johnson also told officers he had thrown the weapon into the woods and that he had left the scene with a handcuff on his left wrist, which he said he shot off.

Johnson was charged with homicide, weapons and game offenses, and other counts, and Adams County District Attorney Shawn Wagner said he would likely seek the death penalty. Court officials said Johnson didn't have a lawyer.

"This was a malicious act," said Pennsylvania Game Commission spokesman Jerry Feaser.

Grove enjoyed hunting and fishing and was an avid golfer, said Robert Criswell with the game commission.

Johnson's 19-year-old passenger, Ryan Laumann, was described by police as a cooperating witness, and it was not clear when the two became separated or if the friend contacted police on his own.

Steve Rice, Laumann's lawyer, said his client gave police information that may have helped them track down Johnson. Rice said charges against Laumann may be filed.

"I would think that that's possible, but not homicide," Rice said. "I think he understands the gravity of the situation."

The last Pennsylvania Game Commission officer to be shot and killed in the line of duty was Joseph McHugh in Weatherly, Carbon County, on Nov. 7, 1915.

Grove-Bowersox Funeral Home Inc. in Waynesboro was handling arrangements. Criswell spoke with Grove's father on Friday.

"All I'll say is they're doing as well as could be expected, under the circumstances," Criswell said.


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