Day of Remembrance: Bethlehem Police Officer Phillip J. Fahy shot and killed 43 years ago

Bethlehem, PA

Patrolman Phillip J. Fahy

End of Watch: Friday August 29th, 1969

Officer Phillip J. Fahy

Wednesday August 29th is the 43rd anniversary of the death of Bethlehem Police Officer Phillip J. Fahy, Badge #102.  Officer Fahy was shot and killed while attempting to apprehend the driver of a hit and run vehicle.  The suspect, Bebley Wells, Jr. was shot multiple times by Fahy’s partner, Officer Merle Getz.  Wells was tried and convicted of the murder and sentenced to life in prison.  He died in prison on July 1st, 2004.

On August 30th, 1969, the Morning Call newspaper gave the following account:

Bethlehem Policeman Slain by Gunman; Suspect Is Wounded by 2nd Officer

Blast Follows Speedy Chase on Hit-Run

By Bob Collins
August 30, 1969
 
A high-speed chase through Bethlehem streets ended last night in the fatal shooting of a policeman and the wounding of his alleged assailant. Dead on arrival at St. Luke’s Hospital was Patrolman Phillip J. Fahy, 26, of 457 Main St., Bethlehem.
He was pronounced dead of massive chest wounds as the result of a shot fired from a 12-gauge shotgun at close range.
Undergoing surgery at the hospital was Bebley C. Wells Jr., 31, of William  Street Extension, Bethlehem R. 5. He has wounds of the chest, wrist and arm.
A joint statement by the police department and a representative of the Northampton County district attorney’s office was issued about 1 a.m. today:

The statement said … “At approximately 7:13  p.m. a Bethlehem police officer while in the performance of his duty was shot and mortally wounded. The wound was inflicted by a person armed with a shotgun.

“When the officer approached the person on foot, he was shot at short range. The police officer is Phillip Fahy, who joined the Bethlehem Police Department on Dec. 15, 1966. He was dead on arrival at St. Luke’s Hospital. His
assailant was shot during the incident and also transported to St. Luke’s.

“At 11 p.m., the assailant, Bebley Wells Jr. of William Street Extension, Bethlehem R. 5, was prepared for surgery. He has since emerged from surgery and hospital officials say he will recover from his wounds. Charges are
to be lodged against him at a later date.”

Asst. Dist. Atty. John
Gallagher said police reports on details surrounding the shooting were not released pending completion of a police investigation. He said the information released last night was in such a manner as not to prejudice the case in light
of recent Supreme Court rulings.”

Information gathered at the scene by reporters disclosed that the incident was triggered by a report of a hit-run
accident on Bethlehem’s South Side.

Fahy and his cruiser partner Patrolman Merle Getz followed a blue 1966 model car traveling at a high rate of
speed. They caught up with the vehicle after it turned off the William Street Extension and into the side yard of a home.

Details Not Clear

At this point, details were not clear, but it is believed Wells stepped from the car with a shotgun in his hand. He pointed the weapon at Fahy, cocked it and said “I’m gonna kill you.” He then fired, with the impact driving Fahy back about 12 feet.

Getz, meanwhile drew his 38-calibre service revolver and began firing at Wells. Several bullets struck Wells, and dropped him to the ground.

Other policemen, including Patrolman Robert Sterner and Jackson Strohl, had joined the chase as a backup for Fahy and Getz. When they arrived on the scene, Fahy was lying on the ground, bleeding  profusely.

The sight reportedly sent Sterner into a state of shock. He was treated at St. Luke’s and later released.

Getz also was treated for shock and released.

The shooting took place on the narrow William Street road in a heavily wooded area between Bethlehem and Hellertown.

All available Bethlehem police were called to the scene. Mayor Gordon Payrow, Public Safety Director Irvin Good
and Police Chief Edward Donaher also were sent to the area. Police auxiliaries were called out and the area was blocked to traffic.

There were reportedly two person in the car which Wells was allegedly driving. It is believed the other occupant was Wells’ father, Bebley Wells Sr. of Ravena Street.

The elder Wells was taken to police headquarters for questioning, as was Wells’ wife. They were still under interrogation early today.

An autopsy was performed by Dr. Joseph W. Fisher and Dr. Thomas Lukaszczyk. They said they would report the results to the Northampton County district attorney’s office and the Lehigh County coroner.

Fahy was married to Susan Reynolds.
He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. John Fahy of 811 Spring St., Bethlehem.

When told of her son’s death, Mrs. Fahy reportedly was placed under a doctor’s care at her home. Payrow, who was at the home, asked police to bring oxygen for her.

Fahy was born in Allentown on Feb. 17, 1943.

He went to Ss. Simon & Jude School and was graduated from Notre Dame High School in 1962.

Fahy spent three years in the Navy. He was assigned to the USS Intrepid.

He started as a policeman with the city on Dec. 15, 1966.

Officer Phillip Fahy is survived by his wife, Susan, and his daughter, Sharon, who was not born until several months after his death.  In a ceremony on May 14, 2009, Officer Phillip J. Fahy was posthumously awarded the Department’s Medal of Honor and retired Sergeant Merle Getz was awarded the Distinguished Service Award for his actions that day.

Officer Phillip Fahy is honored and remembered by a plaque on the Bethlehem Police Memorial wall, a monument on the memorial grounds and by the bridge that spans the Lehigh River and bears his name.

Officer Fahy, you are not forgotten.  You are remembered each year at our Memorial Service and Award Ceremony during National Police Week.  On August 29th, the flag on our memorial will fly at half staff and our officers will wear a black mourning band on our badge to signify your loss and to remember your ultimate sacrifice and your service to the citizens of Bethlehem.

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One thought on “Day of Remembrance: Bethlehem Police Officer Phillip J. Fahy shot and killed 43 years ago

  1. As prominent as the memorial and the name on the New Street Bridge is, this post is important to remind us all of the sacrifice made by those who dedicate their lives to serve and protect. Memorials have greater meaning when we remember.

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