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Retired policeman remembered as a jokester

Chuck Biedka
| Saturday, Aug. 27, 2005

Bob Richards waited in the hidden borough police car with the engine running.

First, one garage door was opened at Highland Tire at Second Avenue and Boyd Street. Then the other was lifted.

Richards instantly hit the gas and turned on the lights and siren of cruiser 106. A noisy few seconds later, the laughing Richards was gone.

"We got used to it," Brad Bonnett, a Highland Tire store manager, said Friday.

Richards, who was a police officer for 32 years, died Thursday when he was cutting tree limbs and was knocked to the ground by a falling limb. He was 65.

Richards is remembered as a man who loved April Fools' Day -- or any day -- pranks, but who secretly dipped into his pocket to buy food for people at Thanksgiving or gifts for needy children at Christmas.

He also is remembered for saving a man who wanted to jump from the Tarentum Bridge and for shooting out the dual tires of a stolen dump truck that finally stopped when it no longer could roll on the rims.

"He was loved by the honest people and respected by the others," said borough Police Chief Bill Vakulick.

"He was reliable," said retired borough officer R.J. Collins of Tarentum. "When he was working with you, you knew you had good backup. You trusted him."

"He was my partner for 33 years," said retired police officer Robert Sader, who also lives in the borough. "We were known as the Bobbies" and police earned respect, he said.

Neither Collins nor Sader was working when the man-on-the-bridge call came in from the dispatcher, they said.

Harrison Police Chief Mike Klein was one of the officers standing by to help. It was the 1980s.

"The man was on the downriver side of the bridge. There's no fence or sidewalk and he has one leg over the edge. He's saying 'I'm going to jump. I'm going to jump' and Richards had heard enough.

"He said, 'Not on my shift,' and he lunged at him. With those bear-paw hands of his he grabbed him under the arms and back and threw him to the bridge deck. The rest of us had to direct traffic to keep them from being run over," Klein said Friday.

"He had a dominating presence with his large frame, loud voice and forthright demeanor," Klein said.

Richards once was shot in the shoulder during a fugitive hunt in Springdale in the late 1960s or early 1970s and was stopped from falling further down a cliff by bumping into the body of the man he was looking for below Route 28.

Klein well remembers that day in the 1990s.

"He was walking in the woods on a steep area above a cliff when he slips and goes almost the whole way to the bottom. He stopped when he bumped into the body of the guy. That's what saved him and he never felt good about it," Klein said.

Then there was the 1984 CoGos robbery in Harrison.

Richards was determined that the escape car wouldn't get out of Tarentum.

"He stood behind his patrol car, and when the car came he stepped out, raised his pistol and blasted the radiator. The car overheated and the disabled car stopped," Klein said.

Richards also cheated death at least four times, he said.

He had a motorcycle wreck, survived a chainsaw cut to his throat, a heart attack and the fall down a cliff.

Fawn Police Chief Tim Christy remembers the day when he and the former chief raced to get Richards to the hospital.

"He wouldn't go in an ambulance and Tarentum police were tied up with a wreck. He had cut his neck wide open," Christy said.

"He was constantly helping people. And then there was April 1."

The year he retired because of a heart attack, Richards showed up in uniform, badge and gunbelt. He told people he was recalled to duty. He kept the straight face for a long time before people caught on.

Just before Sader retired, Richards again put on his uniform and told Sader he was called to replace him because Sader was retiring.

Sader hadn't said he would retire yet, his friends recall.

Pat Duffy, who was a desk sergeant for 25 years, recalls a day when a 125-pound pig fell from a truck crossing the Tarentum Bridge. Richards used his belt as a leash and, after taking the pig to the station, put it in an unoccupied holding cell.

A complaint soon came from a drunken prisoner being held in the adjoining cell, Duffy said.

"The guy in the next cell is making too much noise," the man griped. "He's snorting."

The prisoner could hear but not see the pig, Duffy said.

Richards enjoyed the the plight of the frustrated man who later yelled, "Shut up. I'm trying to sleep," Duffy said.

The pig was moved the next day to the farm where it belonged.

Friends and relatives may pay respects to Richards and his family from 2 to 9 p.m. Sunday and from noon to 2 p.m. Monday in the Duster Funeral Home, 10th Avenue and Corbet Street, Tarentum.

The Fraternal Order of Police will hold a service at 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

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