Wade Russel Meisberger
Wade Russel Meisberger
A former Madison man is dead after leading Pennsylvania police on a three county chase in a tractor trailer Monday, resulting in a four-hour standoff at a local hockey rink that ended when gunfire was exchanged with a Special Emergency Response Team with the suspect fatally wounded.

Wade Russel Meisberger, 48, formerly of Madison but most recently of Whiteland, Indiana, was a fugitive from justice riding in a tractor-trailer that had been pulled over on Interstate 81 in northeastern Pennsylvania near the Frackville ramp.

The driver of the truck, whom police have not identified, got out but Meisberger, who was wanted by US Marshals on a homicide probation violation, stayed in the truck, jumped behind the wheel and fled from police.

State Police from Frackville and Hazleton joined in the pursuit, which traveled along I-81 and through Schuylkill, Carbon and Luzerne counties. According to radio transmissions, Meisberger pointed a firearm at officers during the pursuit and lost the truck trailer during the chase before driving the cab through the city streets of Hazleton until the truck became stuck in a grassy area behind the Beech Street hockey rink and playground there.

Officers from Hazleton, West Hazleton, Butler Township in Luzerne County and Weatherly arrived to assist troopers and marshals in establishing a perimeter around the truck and Meisberger held them at bay with gunfire for about four hours until he was fatally wounded, officials said.

Troopers confirmed via a media release that Meisberger had fired upon them and was killed when authorities fired back.

A shelter-in-place order was issued for residents of the nearby Hazleton Housing Authority neighborhood, and the Special Emergency Response Team was brought in, along with a Bearcat and armored dozer. Flashbangs and gunfire could be heard during the standoff and, at one point, bullets ricocheted up Beech Street, forcing authorities to relocate a media staging area for the safety of reporters gathered at the scene.

Two witnesses to the chase spoke with reporters during the standoff and one actually recorded video of the truck speeding through town with police in pursuit.

“I was on Poplar Street. I was going south and the semi-truck was coming up towards me, almost hit me like this far away. I could almost touch it,” said Tyler Memis. “Turned around and started flying, there was state cops, Hazleton cops. So now this dude’s down here, they say he has a gun or something and I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Wade Ball, of Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, told reporters he saw the truck speed by. “We were at a stop sign and he flew by us, like 15 cops behind him. It was crazy.”

Authorities did not elaborate on what led to Meisberger’s current probation violation warrant. However, it was not the first time he had violated terms of probation.

He violated parole after being released from prison in Indiana in 2012 for a 1993 murder conviction involving a childhood friend in Bloomington, Indiana. Meisberger, then 19, was convicted of killing 20-year-old Michael Sawyer in July 1991 by hitting him with a 2-by-4 and slashing his throat before stealing Sawyer’s Pontiac Fiero and fleeing to Florida. He eluded capture until he was found in North Carolina in August 1992 after his case was featured on the TV show “America’s Most Wanted.”

Court documents show that Meisberger was sent to prison for 48 years but then received a sentence reduction to 30 years with 18 years of supervised probation and unsupervised probation until 2041. He served 15 years, received time off for good behavior and was released from prison in September 2007 on probation.

Meisberger ended up living in Madison but failed to report a valid living address, did not return telephone messages to probation officers and failed to report to two meetings with the probation department. That led to a warrant being issued for his arrest in June 2012, for probation violation. While in prison and later in Madison he had formed Riverflow Ministries, a Christian organization to provide help to people recently released from prison.

On June 21, 2012, the Carroll County Central Dispatch in Carrollton, Kentucky, received a 911 call concerning a naked man about to jump into the Kentucky River from the U.S. 42 bridge between Carrollton and Prestonville. Thinking that the man, whom they later identified as Meisberger, had jumped, authorities responded to attempt a rescue and continued their search with no success for two days by dragging the Kentucky and Ohio rivers and using a cadaver dog.

At the time, police said they were suspicious Meisberger, knowing he was facing the parole violation, had faked the incident in an effort to elude capture and that proved to be the case when he posted videos on YouTube about two weeks later and spoke with a reporter at The Madison Courier about the incident.

Meisberger said he had tried to kill himself but had failed and that probation officers were out to get him. He told the reporter, “I know this is going to end bad for me. I just know it is. I’m not going to stop until I get this done.”

Meisberger eluded capture for about a month before he was taken into custody and sent back to prison to serve time until he was released again in 2015.

Three years later he was back at the Indiana Department of Correction’s Pendleton Correctional Facility in 2018 as a guest speaker to talk to inmates suffering from mental health issues about his story and to motivate and encourage them to take a decisive action in improving their life as he had done.

Now, just over two years later, Meisberger has died in his final run-in with law enforcement

The Pennsylvania State Police and the Luzerne County prosecutors are investigating the shooting.

Information for this story was also gathered by The Associated Press and from The Madison Courier archives.