Published January 13, 2015
The body of shooting suspect Travis Trim was pulled from the charred wreckage of a Catskill-area farmhouse where a trooper was slain as investigators looked into why a police assault on the house ended in a fierce blaze.
Forensic investigators used fingerprints Thursday to identify the badly burned body as that of Trim, a 23-year-old from northern New York suspected of shooting two troopers at the rural home Wednesday morning, state police Maj. Kevin Molinari said.
Police had been searching for Trim since the Tuesday afternoon shooting of another trooper, who escaped serious injury because the bullet struck his body armor. Trim was apparently holed up in the farmhouse on the northwestern edge of the Catskills on Wednesday when he opened fire on approaching troopers, killing one and wounding another.
It was not clear whether Trim died in the shootout early Wednesday or during the blaze that unexpectedly broke out when police assaulted the house that evening. His body was found slumped in a doorway, holding a rifle. An autopsy was scheduled for Thursday at Albany Medical Center, though state police Lt. Glenn Miner said it could be several days before results are available.
The cause of the fire was still under investigation. Preston Felton, acting superintendent of the state police, has ordered a "complete administrative investigation" into the matter, Molinari said. The major said such investigations are routine.
"There's a lot of careful thought that goes into using any type force, and we feel that everything was done appropriately," Molinari said.
It was also unclear why Trim -- whose previous run-ins with the law consisted of petty crimes -- would fire at three troopers in two days. Even Trim's father, Marvin Trim, said he doesn't know what happened to his son, who attended the state university at Canton last fall.
"I don't know what happened at college," Trim said. "He got into trouble and I guess his friends told him he was going to go to jail for a long time. It wasn't true. He died for nothing. He let stupidity and ignorance get the best of him."
Officials had filed a probation violation against Trim in December, but St. Lawrence County Sheriff Gary Jarvis told WWNY-TV the department has no record of it.
Trim was considered a low-risk offender until last fall, when officials believe he became involved with alcohol and drugs, St. Lawrence County Probation Department Director Francine Perretta told the station.
"All the steps we were supposed to take, we took," Perretta said. "I think the concern here is what happened to the warrant. I don't have an answer to that and that will certainly need some looking into."
Killed in the Wednesday morning farmhouse shooting was Trooper David C. Brinkerhoff, a member of the force's elite mobile response team, or MRT. Brinkerhoff, a 29-year-old father of a baby girl, was shot in the head. Trooper Richard Mattson was wounded in the left arm. Mattson was in serious but stable condition Thursday after surgery at Albany Medical Center.
State Troopers PBA President Daniel Federicis said Mattson was alert, eating and doing as well as can be expected.
Margaretville Mayor Bill Stanton said police told him that Trim fired at the troopers as they stood on the front porch, using a high-powered rifle he found inside the farmhouse. The property is owned by a family whose members include a New Jersey law enforcement officer, neighbors said.
State police MRT members surrounded the house after the shootout, staking out positions behind trees and along a stone fence. Troopers explored the house with a robotic vehicle and a camera attached to a pole and finally decided to move in Wednesday evening. But the house caught fire after rounds of tear gas were fired inside. The house, used as a weekend retreat, had weapons and ammunition inside, officials said.
Police officials still didn't know if the fire was sparked by a hot tear gas round or whether Trim was still alive at that point and could have started it himself. A state police forensic investigative unit was going over the scene, a process Trooper Nelson Torres described as "very slow, meticulous."
Despite the destruction of the house, Molinari believed state police acted appropriately given their mission of taking Trim without injuries to anyone.
"We had a series of calculated steps weighed out yesterday and we initiated each one of those steps after careful thought and planning," he said.
Brinkerhoff is the third trooper to be shot and killed in the line of duty since March 2006 -- a tragic stretch of time for the state police in which two other on-duty troopers died in vehicle accidents and another was killed while on foot patrol in Iraq.
One of the shooting deaths came at the hands of Ralph "Bucky" Phillips, a western New York jail escapee who eluded police for five months before his capture in September. Phillips shot three troopers, killing one. Brinkerhoff was involved in the massive manhunt for Phillips.
The New York State Trooper Foundation said it was accepting donations for a trust fund at Trustco Bank for Brinkerhoff's infant daughter, Isabella Grace. The troopers' PBA also was assisting the family and earmarking incoming donations to the Brinkerhoff and Mattson families.
Calling hours for Brinkerhoff are Monday and Tuesday in Coxsackie. The funeral will be at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Delmar on Wednesday followed by burial at St. Mary's Cemetery in Coxsackie.
Trim's father would not reveal if the family had any funeral plans. Asked how he wanted people to remember his son, Trim replied: "I wish they wouldn't have to remember him at all."