CRANBERRY TWP — During his 18 months of rehabilitation, Dan Hahn never doubted his return to the Cranberry Township Police Department, even in his toughest days.
Last week, the police corporal returned to work for the first time since Valentine's Day night in 2011, when he fell from an Interstate 79 overpass while chasing a fleeing drunken driver suspect on foot.
He was seriously injured when he fell onto Tollgate Road. The suspect died from his injuries.
Hahn now is on light duty, working three days per week, four hours per day, under doctor's orders, but he hopes to get back into a police car as soon as possible.
The officer has come a long way back and now is assisting internally on investigations and helping with administrative work.
“My therapy was long and painful. Some days it killed me to do it. But our safety director said to me your job is always there if you want it and you'd have to tell me you didn't want it,” Hahn said.
“They let me know I was still part of the team. That kind of stuff helps push you. It helps you on your bad days to push you through.”
The suspect had rammed into the back of Hahn's police cruiser before he took off on foot with Hahn in pursuit. That 22-year-old man died a day later.
“I had no idea that was a bridge or obviously I wouldn't have went over it,” said Hahn in a 2011 interview. “I thought I was stepping onto grass and snow.”
Hahn remembered falling, but not hitting the ground. He awoke briefly at the scene and recalled being surrounded by law enforcement personnel before being put onto a medical helicopter and taken to the hospital.
Hahn was hospitalized at Allegheny General Hospital, where he spent three weeks in a coma and had numerous surgeries because of his injuries.
The 21-year veteran officer underwent back, neck and elbow surgeries. He also had several other injuries.
He has spent the past 18 months in HealthSouth Harmar Township Rehabilitation Hospital.
Now, he continues his rehabilitation at home doing much of his work in an indoor pool from a program designed by his rehabilitation physicians.
Hahn, the father of four grown children, said, “I would have never made it through it without my wife and God.”
His family, father and brothers and sisters also assisted him through the day to day efforts of his recovery. Throughout, he also was humbled by the support and well wishes of the community and friends.
“It lets me know that my career has made a difference. I truly love this place and couldn't even dream of doing this anywhere else,” he said.
Jeff Schueler, Cranberry public safety director, said it's great to have Hahn working again.
“He still has his drive and compassion as he always had,” he said.
Jerry Andree, Cranberry manager, also was happy that Hahn was able to accomplish his goal of coming back to the department.
“Cpl. Hahn is so excited to be able to return to this level of involvement with the township, and I share that excitement,” said Andree. “Dan is an inspiration for all of us and we look forward to his continuing improvement.”
Although Hahn said his ordeal hasn't changed his approach to law enforcement, he said it did change him as a person.
“I used to take things for granted. Coming from where I had to learn to sit and stand, I believe I have much more compassion and am much more patient,” he said.
His wife, Fritz, said her husband's recovery has been a long road.
“It's been a journey that has made us stronger as a couple,” she said. “We've both grown as individuals, and we've definitely learned patience.
“His whole goal from day one has been to return to work,” she said.
“Since Dec. 7, 2011, when he started his rehab, he's planned on going back to work.”
She couldn't say enough about the support she and her husband received from the township administration and police department.
“Their support was above and beyond what we could have ever expected,” she said.
“It's been a test for us. Everybody goes through tough times in their lives. We tried to be an example of how to respond to adversity.”