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Off-Duty Chicago Police Officer Killed, His Tight-Knit Block Devastated

By Erica Demarest | March 14, 2014 6:43am | Updated on March 14, 2014 12:49pm
  An off-duty Chicago police officer was killed in Chatham Friday when a Calumet Park police chase on the Dan Ryan Expy. ended in a crash.
Police Chase Ends in Crash
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SCOTTSDALE — An off-duty Chicago police officer was killed in Chatham early Friday when a suburban police chase on the Dan Ryan Expy. ended in a grisly crash.

Officers from south suburban Calumet Park were chasing a van on the Dan Ryan Expy. when the van exited the highway at 87th Street just before 1 a.m., Chicago police said. The van then slammed into a car, killing an off-duty police officer who had been driving it.

The 42-year-old officer had just gotten off work and was heading back to the Scottsdale home he shared with his wife and two sons, neighbors said.

The officer, identified as David Harris by the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office, was pronounced dead at the morgue at 4:25 a.m. Friday.

 Chicago Police Officer David Harris was killed Friday, March 14, 2014.
Chicago Police Officer David Harris was killed Friday, March 14, 2014.
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Chicago Police Department

"It was devastating. Not only with regards of the sudden loss of someone you really like, but for his family," said friend and neighbor C.W. Harris, who is not related to the officer. "He was a real good guy. A family man. He took care of his wife and children."

Neighbors described David Harris, who police said was a veteran of 10-and-a-half years, as "a real nice guy." He had a wife and two sons, ages 8 and 10, according to neighbors, and was one of four officers who lived on the "tight-knit" block.

"He worked in some dangerous neighborhoods ... I'd always tell him to be careful out there," said Bill Burnes, who has lived next door to Harris for six years.

"Here, the guy just got off his shift, and he's just coming home. It’s one thing if you’re on the job, and you know there’s danger there. But to be in the safety of your car, sitting at a red light, thinking: I’m coming home to my wife and kids …"

Burnes shook his head and said he had "a good cry" Friday morning. He and his daughter were planning to cook for Harris' family.

"That’s what my wife would’ve done," Burnes said. "We lost my wife three years ago, and when she passed away, [Harris and his wife] brought food over to us. Just great neighbors."

A police officer who lives down the street said the sudden death really struck a nerve with local officers and their spouses.

"My wife has been texting me all day," he said. "Your wife's always worried about you. But [to die] just on your way home. I was like, 'Oh my God.' You always think something will happen at work."

Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy called the traffic crash "a terrible tragedy." It is the third violent incident involving police since Saturday. A retired police sergeant was shot Wednesday, and an officer executing a drug warrant Saturday was hit in the head with a bullet fragment.

Harris "dedicated his life to protecting our residents and communities, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and colleagues," a statement from McCarthy said. Police said Harris earned 87 department awards, including two Department Commendations, a Joint Operations Award, and a Unit Meritorious Performance Award.

Calumet Park police have two people from the van in custody. A Calumet Park Police Department spokesman was expected to make a statement later Friday.

“From what I hear, the people driving the van — scrapes and bruises,” Burnes said, shaking his head. “That’s the way it is.”

Officers from the Chicago Police Department's major accidents unit are investigating.