A Freemansburg police officer with longtime ties to the borough was shot and killed Thursday afternoon when he responded to a domestic disturbance call, and a suspect was arrested shortly afterward, authorities said.
Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli identified the officer as Robert A. Lasso, 31, who joined the department in 2004 and was the son of Borough Councilman Donald Lasso, a member of the fire department and its former chief.
The suspect, George Hitcho Jr., 46, of 440 New St., will be charged with homicide, Morganelli said at a late-night news conference at the state police barracks in Bethlehem. Police recovered a shotgun at the scene.
"At this point, we are not looking for any additional suspects," state police Lt. Vincent D'Angelo said.
Police said Lasso responded to a disturbance call that came in at 5:06 p.m. and took him to the 400 block of New Street. Police radioed an "officer down" call at 5:15 p.m. Officers from several departments quickly descended on the wooded area, blocking off streets.
A Bethlehem Township EMS ambulance took Lasso to St. Luke's Hospital-Fountain Hill, escorted by Bethlehem motorcycle police. He was pronounced dead at 5:42 p.m. of a gunshot wound, Lehigh County Coroner Scott Grim said.
Lasso, who lived in Bethlehem and had a wife and two young children, was the first Northampton County police officer to be shot to death in the line of duty since Bethlehem patrolman Philip J. Fahy was killed in August 1969.
Morganelli said he couldn't talk about Hitcho's criminal record. But according to court documents, Hitcho was convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia in 2007.
The shooting happened about a half-mile east of the borough park. New Street intersects with Washington Street, which slopes down to the Lehigh River and was shut down west of the shooting scene to Pembroke Avenue.
Police officers from Bethlehem and Bethlehem Township and state police were called in to assist.
About 6:45 p.m., a woman ran up to police and fire officials where Pembroke Avenue and Washington and Cambria streets meet, yelling, "That's my brother!" Police talked with her for about five minutes. She made a call on her cellphone, then collapsed. A man helped her away.
Residents say many members of the Lasso family live in the borough, some just blocks from the shooting.Members of the Freemansburg Volunteer Fire Company gathered at the firehouse Thursday evening after they heard the news.
Fire Capt. Jose Garcia said Lasso would come by almost daily to say hello to firefighters and even stopped in at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, just before his shift started.
"Robert was a really caring person. If you had a problem, he'd be there for you even when he was off-duty," Garcia said.
"He was a part of everybody's life here. Any type of events we had here, like our picnic, he was always there for us."
He said Lasso and his wife, Jennifer, have a son and daughter. The son is 3, and the daughter is 5.
His widow is a Liberty High School teacher.
On Wednesday, Lasso dropped by the firehouse and saw volunteer Robert Ziegenfuss with a fresh ice cream cone.
Garcia said Lasso told Ziegenfuss, "I'm sorry sir, but I'm going to have to confiscate your ice cream." Lasso got some laughs, but not the ice cream cone.
About 8 p.m. Thursday, borough Patrolman J.P. Lakits was waiting for a ride in the police station parking lot. He described Lasso as "nice, easygoing."
Asked how the department was holding up, he said, "We're still hanging in there," then got in a cruiser and it drove away.In Lasso's first year with the department, he helped find and help a woman who had been badly beaten by her ex-boyfriend. Three years ago, Lasso broke two ribs in a crash and missed a few weeks of work.
Lasso was the second law enforcement officer shot to death in the area in the last two months. Berks County Deputy Sheriff Kyle P. Pagerly was shot and killed by a suicidal man in Albany Township in late June.
State Trooper Joshua Miller was killed in June 2010 while trying to apprehend a man wanted for a kidnapping in Nazareth. The gunman led police on a 40-mile chase into Monroe County, where he opened fire, killing Miller and wounding another trooper.
Officers with the Allentown and Bethlehem police departments suffered gunshot wounds in 2006. Bethlehem officer Stephen Marks was shot twice during a gunfight with a robbery suspect in August. Allentown officer Andrew J. Beky was shot in October.
The last Lehigh County law enforcement officer killed by gunfire in the line of duty was Deputy Sheriff Paul Hartman, who was shot while serving a bench warrant on a theft suspect in July 1992 in Allentown. The suspect committed suicide shortly afterward.
Reporters Manuel Gamiz Jr. and Pamela Lehman contributed to this story.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times