FREDONIA, N.Y. – One of two troopers ambushed while searching for an escaped convict died Sunday of his injuries, and state police vowed to capture the man they believe killed him.
Joseph Longobardo, shot in the leg while on a stakeout for Ralph “Bucky” Phillips, died at a Buffalo hospital with his wife and parents at his side, New York State Police Superintendent Wayne Bennett said. The other wounded officer, Donald Baker Jr., remained in critical condition Saturday in a medically induced coma, police said.
Investigators believe Phillips has had help avoiding capture for the last five months, even after he was suspected of wounding a trooper in June. Some in rural western New York had viewed the manhunt with amusement, but that changed after Thursday’s shootings.
“There has been a marked difference in the cooperation that we are receiving,” Bennett said. “I thank those people for coming forward, because they have finally realized, if they were on the fence, there is no more fence-sitting now. That day is gone.”
Phillips, 44, has been on the run since April, when he used a can opener to cut an opening in the kitchen ceiling of an Erie County jail and escaped through the roof.
Since then, he has been suspected in the June shooting of Trooper Sean Brown near Elmira in southern New York, and police said he has survived on the run by stealing about 15 vehicles and breaking into hunting camps and a gun shop.
Longobardo, 32, and Baker, 38, were ambushed by a sniper hiding in the woods outside the home of Phillips’ former girlfriend. Baker was shot in the back.
One trooper managed to return fire, but police did not say whether the sniper, who fired from less than 100 yards away in the woods, was hit.
Longobardo’s leg had been amputated, and he never regained consciousness after being shot.
“He was your advocate. He was our trooper. Don’t ever forget it, please,” Bennett said.
Authorities say Phillips’ disdain for police was well known. Sheriff’s officials said that when he was released or transferred from the Chautauqua County jail several years ago, he left officials a note threatening “to splatter pig meat all over Chautauqua County.”
But police said his threat now extended to the public.
“Clearly now, there can be no discussion about the fact that he is a dangerous person,” Bennett said, “and he’s a risk to everybody, law enforcement and non-law enforcement alike.”
Hundreds of police, 140 a shift, were searching for Phillips.
State police were hoping a new $225,000 reward for help in Phillips’ capture would inspire residents to come forward. Six local people have been arrested in recent days and charged with harboring Phillips, including his daughter and former girlfriend.
“We are not going to put up with it,” police spokeswoman Rebecca Gibbons said after a Sunday vigil for the hospitalized troopers. “He’s angered a family, and we’re going to be out here until he is in custody.”
Outside the state police barracks in Fredonia, more than 100 troopers saluted as the American and state police flags were raised and then lowered to half staff. One trooper sang “Amazing Grace.”
Trooper Mark O’Donnell said Longobardo’s death did not change the way they viewed their mission to catch Phillips.
“You can’t be more determined,” O’Donnell said. “We were determined from the day he shot Sean Brown.”