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Charges Unlikely in Chase That Led to Sergeant's Death

A man who led police on a foot chase Thursday that led to the death of a Hope Mills officer likely won't be charged in connection with the officer's death, police said Friday.

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HOPE MILLS, N.C. — A man who led police on a foot chase that resulted in the death of a Hope Mills officer likely won't be charged in connection with the officer's death, police said Friday.

Sgt. James Hardin, 35, collapsed Thursday while he and his dog chased a suspect in a heavily wooded area near Tom Starling Road and U.S. Highway 301 South, authorities said. He was pronounced dead at Cape Fear Valley Hospital of an apparent heart attack.

Ricky Wilson Jr., 23, was arrested Thursday evening at a house not far from where Hardin collapsed. He is charged with eluding arrest, driving with a revoked license, stealing gasoline and reckless driving. He also was wanted on two outstanding breaking and entering warrants.

Hope Mills Police Capt. John Smith said he was jogging through the woods with Hardin searching for a theft suspect when they came to a fence after about a mile and a half. Hardin began walking back to a nearby police cruiser when he collapsed, Smith said.

"We immediately rolled him over because he was face-down on the asphalt," Smith said. "We cleared his airway. We tried to find a pulse, (but) we couldn't."

Hardin was diagnosed with a heart murmur a few years ago, but Smith said his friend was in "outstanding" physical shape.

"He was probably one of the better shape officers of the department," Smith said.

Hope Mills Police Chief John Hodges said Hardin passed a physical a year ago, but it's not a requirement to stay on the force. The department  has begun a wellness program that will require officers to take physicals each year, he said.

Hardin's body was been sent to a medical examiner's office for an autopsy.

He is the first Hope Mills officer to die in the line of duty in more than 12 years. A black wreath hung on the driver's window of his police cruiser Friday, and the blue lightbar atop it was wrapped in black with the legend "Out of Service."

"He was definitely a man's man -- high character and integrity," Smith said.

Police said two men stole gas from a Wal-Mart at about 10 a.m.Thursday, and their car was spotted on South Main Street a few hours later. The pair bolted from the car as officers approached. One was quickly apprehended, but the second one initiated the chase that led to Hardin's death.

A 10-year veteran of the Hope Mills Police Department, Hardin was promoted to sergeant in June. He is survived by a wife and two children.

Visitation for Hardin is scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at Rogers and Breece Funeral Home on Ramsey Street in Fayetteville. The funeral will take place at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Northwood Temple on Ramsey Street.


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