But McNamara, 43, an eight-year veteran of the Upper Darby Police Department, was beyond help, shot once in the right temple late Wednesday after investigating a parked car. Police said he was shot by a lifelong criminal who had vowed to "kill a cop" before he was arrested again.
McNamara was taken to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was pronounced dead not long after arrival, the first Upper Darby officer slain in the line of duty.
Hours later, a Dodge Neon driven by the suspect, Thomas James "Tom Thumb" Campbell - a wanted man who has spent at least 20 of his 52 years in prisons in Virginia, New Jersey and Pennsylvania - was seen in Upper Bucks County by state troopers. A short chase ended on winding Brick Tavern Road in Milford Township, when Campbell rammed the car into a 15-foot-tall pine tree, snapping it in two. The car flipped and Campbell apparently was ejected.
According to a witness, a trooper held a shotgun on Campbell and shouted, "Don't move," then instructed an onlooker to call 911. Campbell was taken to Lehigh Valley Medical Center near Allentown, where he was in critical condition yesterday.
Delaware County District Attorney Patricia N. Holsten said Campbell - a longtime member of the Pagans motorcycle gang, although his current status is unclear - will be arraigned in Lehigh County on murder, assault and numerous other charges. He will be returned to Delaware County "as soon as medically feasible," she said.
Campbell has an arrest record going back to the fall of 1967, a few months after he turned 18. Authorities have been looking for him since December 1999, when he failed to appear in court on charges of carrying a firearm and disorderly conduct. In June 2000, he was put on Montgomery County's most-wanted list.
McNamara, an Air Force veteran who remained active in the Reserve, was one of the most decorated officers in the Upper Darby department, police said yesterday. He is survived by his wife and two children.
"We've been to funerals, other officers, other departments," said Vincent Ficchi, superintendent of the 115-member Police Department. "But we've never experienced the pain firsthand. . . . In my 23 years, last night was the toughest night I've had."
McNamara, who spent his entire career as a patrolman, was driving along the 6700 block of Perry Avenue on Wednesday night when he radioed in at 9:34 p.m. that he was about to investigate a car - its lights off - parked in front of 6769, one of 13 rowhouses on the street. The house was known by police to be frequented by Pagans, and Ficchi said his department had helped other agencies conduct searches there.
"The officer observed something that raised his suspicion," Ficchi said, although he did not know what caught McNamara's attention. "It was not out of the norm. He was a digger," Ficchi added. "Knowing the history of the house, we believe he conducted an investigative stop."
Campbell called for backup, then exited his patrol car and began questioning someone. Witnesses say McNamara started to talk into his shoulder microphone when Campbell came out of the house, approached McNamara, pulled a handgun from a pocket, and fired a shot into the officer's head.
Mary Ryan said that she and her husband heard a "crack," and that her husband then said: "A cop's been shot outside."
Within seconds, she said, neighbors coming from their houses and firefighters from the station across the street converged on the scene. Ryan tried to comfort McNamara, but there was not much she could do.
"He didn't look like he was suffering," she said.
In minutes, Officer Leo Hanshaw arrived and broadcast that an officer was down. At nearly the same time, the county radio dispatcher began receiving calls about the shooting.
Witnesses gave a description of the blue Dodge Neon that Campbell drove; departments throughout the area were alerted.
State police at the Dublin barracks recognized Campbell's name from a wanted circular issued in mid-December, State Police Capt. Ted Kohuth said. The troopers also knew that Campbell frequented locations in Upper Bucks County. After McNamara was shot, they began visiting the sites where they thought Campbell would seek to hide, Kohuth said.
They also spoke to a former associate of Campbell's who lived in the area. Kohuth said the troopers told the man "it would be wise to pick up the telephone and dial 911" if he heard from Campbell.
About 2 a.m., the man dialed the emergency number after a car pulled into his driveway with its lights out and the driver knocked on his front and back doors. Troopers en route to the house then passed a car that matched the description of the Neon, turned, and began to follow it. They flashed their lights in an attempt to force the driver to pull over, but he turned off his lights and tried to flee on the area's dark, rural two-lane highways.
The troopers broke off the pursuit for safety reasons and lost sight of the car, Kohuth said. Less than two minutes later, they found the Neon on its roof on Brick Tavern Road, near the intersection with Old Bethlehem Pike. Campbell was on the ground.
The crash wasn't loud, said Fred Sylvester, 61, who rents an apartment near the scene. "It was a crunching sound. I looked out my bedroom window. I saw a policeman holding a shotgun on a guy in the car . . . hollering, 'Don't move.' "
Campbell offered no resistance when he was handcuffed, Kohuth said. Troopers found four guns in his possession: a Ruger Blackhawk in a shoulder holster, two Smith & Wesson .357 revolvers in holsters, and a small .32-caliber semiautomatic pistol in his front pocket.
All were loaded. Police would not say which one was believed to have been used to kill McNamara.
Ralph Vigoda's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Stroh and Zlati Meyer of the Inquirer suburban staff contributed to this article.