Cut 'em Off At West Scranton's Deception Pass!
By Chuck Orloski
29 July, 2015
Zane Grey wrote many thrilling scenarios, including tales of lawmen on horseback, those who hollered to posse, “OK Boys, we'll cut 'em off at the pass!” In Grey's literature, “perps” were cattle rustlers, polygamous Mormons, stage coach robbers, often noble Native American Indians. His novels offered unforgettable descriptions of frontier landscapes, for example, the breathtaking Colorado plateau, buffalo on the run. The story's venue which I am about to portray can not evoke picturesque “oohs and ah” from readers, but as the New World Order landscape of American cities has evolved into dangerous crime scenes, the following article will discuss a particular New Posse event, which happened, July 12, 2015, 3:30 A.M., West Scranton, Pennsylvania – my place of birth, hometown.
Driving shuttle bus every Sunday for Scranton Baptist Revival Church, and having dropped off 40 passengers, bereft of transportation, to the steps of an old stone church, I traveled to the Glider Diner, sat upon revolving stool, enjoyed an unhealthy but delicious breakfast; eggs over light, sausage, English Muffins, and home fries. A friendly waitress handed me an available newspaper, The Sunday Times, and the July 12 headline declared, Officer Down; Scranton Patrolman John Wilding severely hurt during chase after robbery; three teens charged.
After sips of weak coffee, and reading further, I muttered aloud, “Damn... this is awful, and it says he's only been with the force a little over one year. (Sigh) And to think I grew up only a couple blocks away, Jackson Street, from where the cop fell in a Lafayette Street parking lot.” An elderly fellow, seated three stools away, listened and said, “Well Mister, it got worse – the cop died, a massive head injury.”
“Ugh, I don't want to finish my eggs now, Sir.”
“Yea, it's sickening, Wilding's only 29 years old, joined force only little over a year. But on the 'sicko' bright side, I suppose his will be one less police pension plan the busted City of Scranton won't have to worry about paying.”
I examined conscience, shook head, replied, “That's a pretty cold way to look at the awful situation.”
“Harsh? O yea buddy! And I'm still waiting for cops and the D.A. to 'collar' Scranton politicians and businessmen who robbed the city blind for several decades.”
Silence. Zane Grey's lawmen who pursued Billy the Kid had no pension plans, and I figured the old buck seated beside me might be a heavily taxed Scranton property owner. Dipped muffin into yolk, a final bite, paid bill, I placed two dollars on counter for tip. Prior to Glider Diner departure, I patted the gent's shoulder, figured he's one of many Scrantonians who are understandably disgusted with a union lawsuit outcome, and subsequent court award of $22.5 million to police and fire department pension plans. My temple throbbed, and without looking back at me, he said, “On measly fixed income and part-time job for Sovereign, I gotta pay for public union's foolish stock market deals!”
Outside Glider Diner, I thought, “jeezez... too bad that guys not going to campaign in Iowa instead of Hillary, Bernie, and twenty Republicans?”
In between morning and afternoon school bus runs, I admit the fact that Limbaugh “ditto heads” would likely decry drivers (like me) who have too much time on their hands. On weekly basis, I frequent places like Dunkin Donuts, Catalano's Market, the West Scranton Sunoco Convenient Market, and a new restaurant, Yankee Lunch. Once waitresses, cooks, butchers, priests, and even cops know you're OK, they tell their fascinating stories.
Couple days after Wilding's death, and seated upon Yankee Lunch rotating stool, I spoke with Carl, the short order cook. He told me about an episode involving his ex-girlfriend and her teenage daughter, Stacy. Weeks prior to the fatal incident on Lafayette Street, the white teenager, future felon, Tanner Curtis, happened to enter Carl's apartment, late at night – totally uninvited. While Stacy stood in hallway, Carl got enraged and told Curtis to “get the (expletive) outta my house!” As I nursed black coffee, Carl calmly explained how, “the freaky white kid wanted to be black.” Sip, sip, I recalled the late-Lou Reed's peculiar song, “I wanna be black.”
Outside Sunoco Convenient Market, Main Street, West Scranton, I spoke with retired Scranton policeman, Joe K., who lived on Division Street for the past three decades. He explained how, just months before the death of Patrolman Wilding, shots were fired from a car being pursued by Scranton P.D. and bullets entered into his porch aluminum siding! Early in July, an old woman who lived in the house behind Joe K., committed suicide. What's more, two nights before Wilding's predicament, Joe K. witnessed a “hit and run,”side swipe of neighbor's parked car on narrow Division Street, and called police.
While despondently discussing the fate of John's widow, Kristen, and two young children, Joe K. informed me about the P.S.O.B., a.k.a, “Lung and Heart” Act. This Federal program guarantees the Wilding's full police paychecks for the rest of Kristen's life; a benefit originally designed to support immediate families of cops and firemen, killed in “line of duty.” On July 17, bagpipes blew and drums rolled for Patrolman Welding, the honor guard went home, afterward a new beat cop patrolled and checked doors of increasingly threatened West Scranton stores and homes.
(See John Wilding funeral service; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFWHt6NQhpo)
While working the outdoor pizza oven at St. Ann's annual Novena, I noticed a Scranton police sergeant on break and seated alone upon picnic table, slowly eating a burger and fries. Sun beat down, and to the east, hundreds of cars poured onto St. Ann's Street, filled with worshipers intent on honoring Ann, the mother of Blessed Mother Mary. I walked over to the Irish cop, and asked if he would enjoy a pizza.
“No, no thank you, buddy, I have to watch my sugar and cholesterol numbers!”
“Yes sir, I suppose cops know better than most that not only criminals can do you in.”
“Yes, yes. Unfortunately, these days, crime's staked out inside our veins just as well as arterial plaque does.”
“And there's no Zocor around yet to keep Scranton alleyways clean, eh?”
“Yup. And I don't think many government grants are available to produce that kinda pill!”
It turned out that the policeman was the brother of a friend who worked with me on the docks of Roadway Express, 1974-1984. He explained how “the three juveniles stole a S.U.V. on Jackson Street, and approached a poor guy out walking, stopped, aimed shot gun barrel at him, demanded money.” Empty pockets and wallet, the youths quickly sped off, and the accosted man managed to contact Scranton police. Soon 12-police cars raced to scene, but by time of arrival, Patrolman Wilding lay dead upon concrete.
Monday, 7:40 A.M., back at helm of a Scranton School District bus, Summer Program, I turned left off North Main and made usual stop at 1107 Lafayette Street. Activated bus warning lights and “stop” mechanisms, tapped horn, and waited for a student's entry. In meantime, I looked immediately east, and stared into the landscape where, early morning July 12, Patrolman Wilding ran in pursuit of three 17-year old robbery suspects, Tanner Curtis, Nassiir Sheldon Jones, and Isiah Malik Edwards.
As part of Scranton Police Department patrol “West Side 1” Standard Operating Procedure, John Wilding drove bicycle on-the-beat. Perhaps not as familiar with the turf as veteran (predecessor) beat cops, John decided to bravely run through a broad parking lot located directly beside “The Vault, Tap and Kitchen,” and cut robbers off at-the-pass, ideally apprehend. I waited a moment for the student to board, once again, she did not show. Placed bus in drive, carefully crept north several feet, and I got a fairly good view of the wall which Welding jumped over, fell to his death.
The parking lot, fatal scene, is not suited for the higher taste of Zane Grey's Wild West fans, including mine. The pathway where Welding ran sloped slightly downward, and unlike most Scranton pothole-lined streets, the parking lot surface appeared in fairly good shape. For approximately 20-yards, in pursuit of “suspects,” John Welding took short-cut, ran east and encountered a long 4' tall wall, covered with vegetation. Unknown to the cop, directly adjacent the wall's other side is a 15' foot descent into a concrete bottom, littered with household trash and discarded appliances. (Note: Such physical structures are familiar to those who have watched Turner Classic Movies which depict N.Y.C. street curbs, and deep direct drops into nightclub entrances) In memorial, a lone flower bouquet lay upon the wall's deceptive top layer, amidst lively vegetation.
In passionate pursuit, Wilding hopped the innocent wall, and plummeted to death, head first into concrete and scattered rubble. Monday afternoon, July 13, school bus run completed, and hurting inside, I stopped at the Main Street building where the tragedy happened; a restaurant called Garibaldi's Authentic Mexican. Inside, not yet open for breakfast, no customers around, I spoke with an elderly lady who swept floor.
“My, my, Miss, how awful what happened to the cop?” In strained English, she replied, 'I know nothing, Senor, but we open soon, and I make you nice burrito. or what you want.”
“Gracias, but I must pass.”
Outside door, looking south on Main, I nostalgically stared at the torn down 1940s era building, former West Side Theater. During late-1950s, my mother Mary and I walked (well over a mile) to the theater, she took me to see popular Zorro films. Reminiscing – had I Don Diego's Los Angeles bank account and command of the Spanish language, I could have remained at Garibaldi's, downed authentic tacos, a burrito. The Senora and I could have mourned how young were the armed robbers. Had she patience, I could have opined about the young bandits being out at such late hour... asked “where were mama and papa?” Did their parents show-up when the three were booked in downtown Scranton? The great Zane Grey never probed depths of Billy the Kid's family, and who knows, maybe the Kid's parents had “old time religion” and good paying jobs at Standard Oil Co., The Bank of the United States?
Come Friday morning, July 17, I had to drive Summer School bus, and could not attend Patrolman Wilding's funeral at St. Peter's Cathedral. On way through nearly deserted West Scranton streets, I played N.P.R. and listened to a discussion on the Obama administration's highly contested lifting of sanctions and agreement to prevent the making of an Iranian nuclear bomb. Several times, I looked into mirror, watched a couple kids sleep, some toyed with cell phones. Once again I stopped at 1107 Lafayette Street, directly across from crime scene, and this time, a quiet 10th grade girl boarded the bus, barely said, “hello,” and took her seat.
A US Congressman spoke (on N.P.R.) about the horrors of Obama's agreement with “terrorist state” Iran, and frustrated, I wanted to alter just one Scranton student's perception. Shut off-radio, and like a fallen Okie preacher, I spoke into bus's interior P.A. System, said, “Yo, kids, can we please have a moment of silence for Patrolman John Wilding?” All complied, and we continued north on Lafayette Street, made right at Swetland intersection, where I had to momentarily stop and wait for the passage of a Scranton garbage truck. The rather new vehicle displayed a sign “We support Scranton P.D.,” and I watched as two perspiring men dumped cans, consolidated household trash, moved on. Likely, the workers did not care much about the Iranian bomb, naturally as long as they got paid every two weeks. In addition, I assumed that they were in (understandable?) agreement with the prevailing local consensus, “hope those goddamn 17-year old killers get locked away for ever!”
This afternoon, July 27, having day off from Summer school bus driving, I took advantage of swimming “for free”at Lackawanna County's McDade Park pool. Actually, since no longer owning either a home or property, and subsequently not having to pay County property taxes, my swimming experience was authentically “free.” Hot afternoon, temperature rose to mid-90 degrees, and at pool were approximately 45 people. Half were Hispanic, and I watched a caring (white) blonde mother of two little kids secure life preservers around their chests. City of Scranton government did not yet declare bankruptcy, The Times Tribune announced a local real estate developer has purchased the failed Mall at Steamtown for $5.25 million, and for all I know, electric bill is paid in Iranian minarets, but the Islamic Republic has neither Victoria Secret undies nor nuclear weapons.
After ½ hour vigorous dip, I ascended pool steps, and shared a bench seat with an affable black man, in mid 40s, along with his lovely grade school age daughter. Soon I learned he lived in Scranton for past ten years, and presently drove fork lift (tow motor) at Wal Mart Distribution Center, Pittston, PA. He made comfortable wage, rented a nice apartment in South Side Scranton, drove a 2007 Honda Civic, he knew about ISIS existence in America, and the tragic death of Patrolman John Wilding.
“What do you think about Coroner Tim Rowlands' autopsy report findings, and the three kids being charged with murder?”
“Not cool, man! Don't know how the law can uphold such severe charge against 'em... why the tattooed cop was inexperienced, rode bicycle on-the-beat; he definitely exercised poor judgment by running after those stupid kids at morning wee hours.”
“O yea, sir. I can imagine a sharp and expensive defense lawyer making such case. But I think the court system will ultimately uphold that the three juveniles caused the cop's death.”
Silence. The blonde mother dipped her painted toes into pool water, and I figured one day pretty widow, Kristen Wilding, might do the same with children, Lola Mae and Sidney Wolfgang.
“Look here, Mister? I come from the Bronx, worked construction there for long time. N.Y.P.D. cops would never run on foot after young hoods like Officer Wilding did. They know better to wait until daylight, when kids are bound to re-surface on street, then pick them up.”
“But the three robbers were carrying heat, a sawed-off shotgun to be precise. Wilding likely had protecting locals from those kids on his mind.”
“Don't matter for me, man, the rookie cop should not have chased... period! That's what it means for cops to grow up, live another week in street hell, and collect paycheck!”
American city streets, hell? Scranton has The Commonwealth Medical College, Hilton and Radison Hotels, a Jesuit University, Coney Island Restaurant, hunger, a Rescue Mission, Cultural Center, ethnic Summer festivals, and hapless citizens own director Paul Sorvino's flop, The Trouble With Cali. Does hell implode? I know nothing of Hades “Fire Triangle,” and to date, I have not seen any pictures of Satan donning a N.Y.F.D. baseball cap. But in contrast to high US government officials like former-V.P. Dick Cheney, plain people don't have underground bunkers for sanctuary when financial and “terror” hammers come down. Doubtless, Scrantonians can not order Navy Seals to settle down and pacify parent-less , insurgent youth.
Come September, Pope Francis plans to visit prisoners during his Fall visit to USA, and I humbly suggest that Scranton-based Lackawanna County jail would be a perfect setting for the Holy Father to meet three 17-year old kids gone very bad. Tonight, July 27, 2015, I try to grow up, and at least recognize the clever deceptions and enticements which accumulate inside our nation's Las Vegas Express, quicksand pass. Pray both the Federal “Lung and Heart” program and Wilding family survivors will enjoy a good long life, and Patrolman John's final bicycle ride will never be put to historical rest, along with complicated “Jim” Lassiter in Zane Grey's Riders of the Purple Sage.
Charles Orloski lives in Taylor, Pennsylvania., wife Carol, two sons, Dan and Joseph. For twenty two (22) years, he worked as a Project and Emergency Response Supervisor and at age 62, he is currently driving school bus for Scranton School District . Charles's articles and poetry has appeared at Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Hollywood Progressive, and The Greanville Post. He can be reached at ChucktheZek@aol.com
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