Trooper, 33, found shot to death; two wounded suspects charged. Police seek vehicle linked to Big Flats bank robbery. Schools put on lockdown during massive search.
By G. JEFFREY AARON and JEFF MURRAY
March 2, 2006
BIG FLATS - Police are still searching for three or four more individuals in Wednesday's fatal shooting of a 33-year-old New York state trooper following a bank robbery in Big Flats.
The trooper from the Horseheads barracks was shot and killed after he stopped to investigate a truck parked on Lowe Road, about a half-mile from the scene of the robbery at 437 Maple St. in Big Flats.
Official believe that Trooper Andrew Sperr may not have known the robbery had occurred because no radio communication had been received. They will check to see whether he called for backup, but they think he was just investigating a suspicious vehicle.
Sperr approached the truck and was fired upon by the suspects. He shot back, wounding robbery suspects Anthony Horton, 33, of Elmira, and Brian Adams, 45, of Breesport, who left the scene in another vehicle that police are now searching for.
Adams and Horton were charged with first-degree murder. More charges are expected.
"It's a very, very sad day for us in the New York state police," said State Police Superintendent Wayne E. Bennett. Sperr was a 10-year veteran of the force and was the youngest of 11 children.
Sperr was wearing his bullet-resistant body armor, according to Bennett, but was shot where the armor did not cover - under the arms and below the waist. He was shot multiple times, Bennett said.
Horton was shot four times below the waist by Sperr and is in Arnot Ogden Medical Center in Elmira with less serious injuries than Adams, who was shot once in the back and is in St. Joseph's Hospital in Elmira, where he underwent surgery Wednesday night.
Horton was taken into custody after he called 911 from the Red Jacket Motel in Ashland, about six miles east of Elmira, where he was in a room with his girlfriend, Bennett said during a news conference that started after 11 p.m. Wednesday. The woman in the room had not been arrested at press time, but was being questioned by police.
Police initially responded to the Maple Street branch of Chemung Canal Trust Co. to handle the robbery, in which no one at the bank was injured. Police said no weapon was displayed and $1,900 was taken.
But attention quickly shifted to Lowe and Kahler roads. After passers-by noticed a state police vehicle in the same place with its lights flashing as they went to lunch and on their way back at around 1:15 p.m., Sperr's body was found beside the vehicle.
Within a short time, police were swarming near the Kahler Road area, closing off both ends of the road south of Interstate 86. Police helicopters hovered overhead.
Schools were locked down in Horseheads and Elmira Heights just as afternoon dismissal was about to begin, and roadblocks were set up throughout the area.
Along Interstate 86, drivers could see troopers armed with shotguns standing watch near the former Rhodes dairy farm, while police officers stopped cars at the Kahler Road/county Route 64 intersection to look inside.
At the same time, on the eastern side of Chemung County, 20 to 25 police officers from Elmira, Elmira Heights, the Chemung County Sheriff's Department and state troopers converged on the Red Jacket Motel on state Route 17 after receiving a 911 call for a gunshot victim - Horton.
Motel personnel said the room - in the back of the motel - was rented Tuesday night. Guests in nearby rooms were evacuated and moved to the motel office while officers secured the area. Officers also set up a temporary command post in a room near the one occupied by the suspects.
After about 30 minutes, officers summoned an Erway Ambulance crew that was parked near the scene to the back of the motel.
Emergency workers removed a stretcher from the ambulance and entered Room 218, where they removed Horton.
Police left the motel, but the search for additional suspects continued as eastbound traffic on Interstate 86 was slowed by a roadblock between the Waverly and Wilawana exits.
"... New York state has lost two very dedicated and very, young police officers in just a few days," Bennett said. "It's a reminder of the risk that law enforcement officers all over America have to accept as a necessary part of their employment, but law enforcement officers continue to do their job despite that. And our troop did his job, too, and it cost it him his life."