- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 2, 2006

CASSADAGA, N.Y. (AP) — For months, authorities in western New York scoured hunting campsites, stopped traffic and questioned acquaintances in a search for an escaped inmate with the skills of a seasoned outdoorsman.

The manhunt intensified Friday after authorities said two participating troopers were ambushed by a sniper hiding in the woods. Seventy-five additional troopers were called up to help as the pair lingered in critical condition.

Police think the gunman is Ralph “Bucky” Phillips, who escaped from jail in April and may be traveling between Pennsylvania and western New York, said State Police Superintendent Wayne Bennett. Since his escape, Phillips has been suspected in the wounding of another state trooper, numerous burglaries and the theft at a gun shop.

“State police want nothing more than to bring Ralph Phillips into custody safely, and today,” state police spokeswoman Rebecca Gibbons said yesterday. “He’s a desperate man; he knows he’s wanted, and his choices are running out. If someone in the community comes between him and his freedom, it is our feeling that he will become desperate and possibly hurt them.”

Police are not looking for a shootout, Superintendent Bennett said.

“That’s not the way we want this to end,” he 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.”

The five-month manhunt has turned Phillips into somewhat of a local amusement here, sometimes frustrating police. A restaurant offered a “Bucky Burger” and some bars in the area sold T-shirts with sayings such as “Got Bucky?”

Phillips, 44, broke out of the Erie County jail on April 2 by using a can opener to pry open a 2-by-2-foot opening in the kitchen ceiling and escaping through the roof, police have said. He was serving 90 days for a parole violation.

Since then, he has helped himself to food, clothes and guns from unattended homes and hunting cabins in western New York, and is thought to have stolen about 15 cars, police said.

He is also wanted in the June 10 shooting of Trooper Sean Brown, who survived after being shot in the abdomen as he approached a stolen car near Elmira.

But after the latest shootings, some Chautauqua County residents were growing less amused.

“In the beginning, it was ‘Ha, ha.’ Now it’s scary, and I just wish it was over,” said waitress Dawn McCarthy.

Troopers Joseph Longobardo, 32, and Donald Baker Jr., 38, were shot Thursday while staking out the isolated hilltop home of Phillips’ former girlfriend, Kasey Crowe, who is among those accused of aiding the fugitive. So far, six persons have been arrested on charges they helped give Phillips cover.

One trooper was hit in the back with a bullet that penetrated his bullet-resistant vest, Superintendent Bennett said. The other was shot in the thigh and suffered massive blood loss from a severed artery.

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