Escaped Convict Suspect in Ambush Shooting of Two New York State Troopers

Law enforcement officers lowered a dragnet over parts of a western New York county Friday as they searched for a fugitive prison escapee suspected of ambushing two state troopers Thursday evening.

Hundreds of troopers called in from around the state searched vehicles at 22 checkpoints in rural and heavily wooded Chautauqua County, backing up traffic as they inspected trunks and talked to drivers in a stepped up effort to capture Ralph "Bucky" Phillips that now includes a $225,000 reward.

Phillips is the prime suspect in the attack on troopers Joseph Longobardo, 32, and Donald Baker Jr., 38, who were each shot once with a high-powered rifle in woods behind the isolated hilltop home of Phillips' ex-girlfriend, Kasey Crowe. One of the bullets penetrated Baker's bullet-resistant vest and torso.

Neither trooper saw Phillips before they were shot and neither returned fire, but one radioed for help, police said.

The troopers were part of a special team hunting Phillips after the shooting of another trooper June 10. They remained in critical condition after each underwent a second round of surgery Friday, State Police Superintendent Wayne Bennett said.

At a press conference Friday afternoon, Bennett appealed to Phillips to surrender.

"We are not looking for a shootout. That's not the way we want this to end," Bennett said. But he also warned Phillips that "We have long memories. We don't forget. We are patient. ... Don't stop to look over your shoulder because we'll be there."

Investigators combed through the scene Friday and worked to reconstruct the shooting, he said.

Authorities said they were aware based on witness interviews that Phillips made threats against police after the Aug. 21 arrest of Crowe, their daughter and the daughter's boyfriend. Crowe was accused of giving Phillips fresh clothing and a place to stay in her home the day before her arrest.

"I don't call it revenge. I call it attempted murder," Bennett said of the threats and the latest shootings.

A Chautauqua County judge, acting at the request of prosecutors who said Crowe has continued to help Phillips, jailed her Friday afternoon and increased her bail from $10,000 to $100,000.

A state police investigator testified at the bail hearing that a search of Crowe's house after the shootings turned up night-vision binoculars and a two-way radio along with pizza crusts and beer cans that will be tested for Phillips' DNA.

Phillips, 44, escaped from jail in April and has been traveling back and forth between Pennsylvania and western New York, Bennett said. Police have said Phillips has gotten support from friends and family during a run that has included numerous burglaries and car thefts.

Investigators are looking into whether the rifle used in Thursday's attack was among 41 weapons — including a shotgun and five rifles — stolen from a local gun shop over the weekend. Baker was shot in the back with a bullet that pierced his vest and exited through his abdomen. Longobardo was shot in the thigh and suffered massive blood loss from a severed artery, police said.

Both men are usually stationed in Saratoga County north of Albany but are members of the Mobile Response Team, a specially trained unit pulled together from around the state for major incidents, police said.

Longobardo was taken to Erie County Medical Center and Baker was being treated at Hamot Medical Center in Erie, Pa.

The Erie County, Pa., Community Blood Bank extended its hours Friday to replenish its supply after more than 40 units of blood were needed to treat Baker.

Pennsylvania State Police issued a warning Friday afternoon that Phillips might be in the state.

"We cannot rule out that he may have fled to Pennsylvania. This subject should be considered armed and dangerous," State Police Commissioner Jeffrey B. Miller said in a statement.

Phillips used a can opener to escape through the ceiling of the Erie County Jail on April 2, four days before his scheduled release after a parole violation, police said. Friends later said he was convinced he would not be released and faced as many as four more years once the results of a March hearing were announced. They also said he was concerned about being restricted from seeing his grown daughter after his release.

Phillips is wanted in the shooting of Trooper Sean Brown near Elmira on June 10. Brown survived after being shot in the abdomen as he approached a stolen car believed to be driven by Phillips.

Since his escape, Phillips has woven his way through western New York and neighboring Pennsylvania, evading police and helping himself to food, clothes and guns in unattended homes and hunting cabins while leaving a telltale trail of stolen vehicles along the way.

Phillips is believed to have stolen about 15 cars since his escape and he is suspected in numerous burglaries, police said.

Also on Friday, the reward for information leading to Phillips' arrest was increased to $225,000 from $50,000, according to the New York State Troopers PBA, the union representing state police. The money would come from police groups and local government.

"This is a dangerous and disgusting man and we need to catch him. This is the incentive that may be needed," said union president Daniel DeFedericis.