New York Trooper Dead, Another Hurt In Manhunt

Thursday, April 26th 2007, 7:42 am
By: News On 6

MARGARETVILLE, N.Y. (AP) _ The smoldering ashes of a quiet farmhouse and the body found inside left investigators with many questions but no certainties _ even whether the dead person was the suspect authorities had been pursuing in three shootings of state troopers, one fatally.

Police could not immediately confirm the body was that of Travis D. Trim, a 23-year-old from northern New York suspected of shooting the troopers. Police had been looking for him since a trooper was shot during a routine traffic stop Tuesday in rural upstate New York.

Preston Felton, acting superintendent of the New York State Police, said there was a ``reasonable degree of certainty'' that Trim was hiding in the unoccupied house in Delaware County when the fire broke out.

``I can't tell you whether he was dead or alive when the fire started,'' Felton said at a news conference late Wednesday.

That was just one of the questions investigators were trying to answer.

Among the others: Had the non-incendiary tear gas canisters fired into the house by troopers ignited _ or fed _ the blaze? Had the person set the fire to cover an escape attempt?

Felton said it could take a day or two to identify the body. While he wouldn't say it was Trim, he said he believed it was the same person who shot two troopers in the house Wednesday morning, one fatally, because the body was found in the area of the house where the gunshots came from.

``It's reasonable to say he had no intention of coming out of there alive,'' Felton said.

The pursuit began Tuesday, after a trooper stopped Trim in a stolen minivan for a minor traffic infraction in the Margaretville area, about 65 miles southwest of Albany.

When Trim failed to provide identification, Trooper Matthew Gombosi told him he was under arrest, Felton said. Then, he said, Trim pulled a handgun from his waistband and shot Gombosi. Gombosi's body armor kept him from being seriously injured, but the suspect escaped, police said.

Police swept the area and found the stolen Dodge Caravan abandoned on a road in nearby Middletown.

The farmhouse where Trim apparently holed up, in a hamlet called Arkville, is on a property that includes two red barns. Neighbors described it as a weekend residence.

Wednesday morning, Troopers David C. Brinkerhoff and Richard Mattson were shot while searching the farmhouse, Felton said.

Brinkerhoff, who was shot in the head, died shortly after the shooting. Mattson, wounded in the left arm, was in serious but stable condition after surgery at Albany Medical Center, where he had been taken by helicopter.

Brinkerhoff, 29, was an eight-year member of the state police.

The fire erupted soon after an armored vehicle rolled up and police fired tear gas into the farmhouse. SWAT teams tried to enter the home at about 5:50 p.m., but were driven back by the flames. Half the house was burning by 6:15 p.m.

Felton said police fired a ``non-incendiary type'' device containing tear gas into the home at about 6 p.m. as troopers stormed in to search for Trim. A robot and cameras mounted on poles had been used to check every room except one where Trim was believed holed up during the day, he said.

It's possible Trim set the fire, Felton said, or a tear gas round could have ignited something in the house.

The home's owner, Rommel Aujero, was aware that it burned and ``appears to be a very understanding man,'' Felton said. A phone number for Aujero could not be located.

Trim is from North Lawrence, in St. Lawrence County about 10 miles south of the Canadian border. He has a 2005 conviction for driving while intoxicated and aggravated, unlicensed operation, but his grandmother said he had tried to turn his life around.

``He wanted to go to college. We talked to his probation officer to help fix it up,'' Ruth Trim said in a telephone interview from her home in Dickinson Center. ``I'm devastated. He was going to go to college to make something of himself. Now, he's really ruined his life.''

Trim had been enrolled briefly at the State University of New York-Canton but withdrew in November, said Randy Sieminski, a school spokesman.

He had been arrested on charges of marijuana possession and providing alcohol to a minor while at SUNY-Canton, but his family and officials at schools he attended were stunned to hear he was a shooting suspect.

``It's all so bizarre,'' said Mark Hill, a SUNY-Canton instructor who had Trim in a freshman class. ``He had no bad dealings here. He got along with everyone and worked well in team settings.''

Last summer, Ralph ``Bucky'' Phillips led police on a five-month manhunt throughout western New York after breaking out of a county jail. He shot one trooper during a traffic stop and two others who were searching for him. One of those troopers died.

Phillips was captured in September and is serving two life sentences.