Vigil held for Leechburg police chief badly hurt in fireworks mishap
Leechburg Police Chief Mike Diebold lost part of an arm Saturday night in a fireworks mishap at the Leechburg Volunteer Fire Company's annual carnival.
His mother, Karen Diebold, reported Sunday night at a candlelight vigil held in his honor that when she visited him at UPMC Mercy hospital earlier in the day he was talking, even joking at times.
"He's a little bummed about the arm, and I said, 'they're already talking (about) a prosthetic," she said at the vigil, which included soft music, flickering candles and a lantern release. There were also speakers and prayers.
"It's amazing," Karen Diebold said. "Last night (Saturday), he looked like he would never make it. But today, he is doing great and half of it is because of all the people in Leechburg that supported him from last night 'til now."
Diebold, 39, had been lighting fireworks mortars at the carnival around 10:45 p.m. when one misfired, exploded and struck him. He lost his left arm, below the elbow.
"It was a terrible accident," said Karen Diebold, who was there when it happened.
Diebold was flown to UPMC Mercy hospital in Pittsburgh. State police from the Kittanning station, who are investigating the incident, said he was in stable condition.
Karen Diebold recalled the scene the night before. She yelled for help and people jumped into action. She said a man she doesn't know saved her son's life by tightening a belt around his arm to act as a tourniquet.
"People just ran and just started taking care of everything," she said. "I knew he was liked, but this was just above and beyond."
She said the response from the community has been wonderful.
"We just can't say enough thank yous," Karen Diebold said. "I never saw a town come together like this."
Before tragedy, his son christened
Roughly six hours before the tragedy, Diebold had celebrated a joyous event: his 2-month-old son's christening.
After the christening, Diebold and his fiancé, Danielle Reinke, went to his house for a small party, said Judy Miller, his godmother. Miller also attended.
She said Diebold left around 8 p.m. to get everything ready for the carnival's fireworks show.
Miller went home. Then, about 11 p.m., she got a phone call. It was her granddaughter with news of Diebold's injury.
"I was just sick in my stomach," Miller, 71, of Lower Burrell said. "He and my youngest son are very close: they're both police officers."
Though the injury is serious, she's glad it wasn't worse.
Another in the vigil crowd was state police Capt. Steve Ignatz, who works out of the Butler station. Ignatz has known Diebold for a while.
He said he came to the vigil to show his support because "right now, that's what he needs more than anything.
"He's a person who's committed to the community, he's an all-around good guy," Ignatz said. "He's a good policeman; he has good knowledge of what's going on in his town.
"You speak to any of the police departments, any chiefs up and down the Kiski Valley and they'll say the same thing."
"He needs to have the knowledge that his brothers in blue and gray are backing him, too."
A fundraiser has also been started to help raise money for Diebold's hospital expenses.
A table was set up for that at the vigil Saturday, where people could donate and order shirts.
Francine Garrone, 36, of West Leechburg, is one of the people involved in the fundraiser.
Garrone grew up with Mike's fiance. She said when incidents like this happen, it's important to let people know the community is there for them.
"We, as community members, need to rally around those people (so they) know that we're here for them," Garrone said.
People can buy black T-shirts that read: "We Stand By Ours. #teamdiebold15656" for $15 to $20.
Orders can be made by emailing email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
All the proceeds will go to the chief and his family.
Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4702, email@example.com, or on Twitter @maddyczebstrib.