Manhunt for escaped killers shifts after possible sighting
Friendship, N.Y. — Investigators tracking two murder convicts who escaped from a northern New York prison scoured a rural area Sunday near the Pennsylvania border after possible sightings shifted the search across the state.
Hundreds of law enforcement officers walked railroad tracks and checked car trunks as a helicopter flew back and forth over the town of Friendship, where state police said someone reported Saturday spotting two men near the railroad line that runs along County Route 20.
While state police described the sighting as unconfirmed, the intense hunt that had focused for two weeks around a prison near the Canadian border was quickly refocused on a rural, mountainous area 350 miles away, dotted with sheds, trailers, summer homes and other potential hideouts.
Concentrating in the area along County Route 20 and Interstate 86, officers set up roadblocks, deployed search dogs and, at one point, state police outfitted in camouflage could be seen heading into some woods.
David Sweat and Richard Matt broke out of the maximum-security Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora on June 6 using power tools and leaving behind dummies under bedcovers in their adjoining cells.
Until Saturday, the search was concentrated in a several-mile radius around the prison in the Adirondacks. Up to 800 law enforcement officers combed woods, went door-to-door and set up roadblocks.
Authorities also said Friday that two men fitting the descriptions of Sweat and Matt had been seen a week ago in Steuben County, east of Allegany County. Two men were seen walking near a rail yard in Erwin on June 13, and then seen the next day in Lindley, heading toward the Pennsylvania border.
Investigators conducted interviews in both communities and sent surveillance video to Albany for further analysis. Railroads in Steuben and Allegany Counties referred inquiries Sunday to the state police.
If the two escapees are still roaming the woods together, that’s not surprising, said Patrick Patten, who trains law enforcers on woodland tracking and has been involved in high-profile manhunts including the search for Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph. Patten said fugitives in the wilderness often stick together, unless they have pre-planned to split up and come back together at a camp or other hideaway.
State police moved the search command post from the prison Saturday to nearby Cadyville and focused attention on the other side of the state. They advised the public to report any suspicious activity and asked residents who live in the Friendship area along the New York-Pennsylvania border to be on alert.
The two men are “very dangerous” and should not be approached, state police said. Several roads around Friendship were blocked off, and police used helicopters and search dogs
“I was a little concerned. You have these guys running around. You don’t know where they are,” resident Darryl Ross told The Leader newspaper. “I have a house with a big cellar and a big garage. I cleared the house. I had firearm protection.”
Sweat, 35, was serving a life sentence without parole for killing a sheriff’s deputy. Matt, 48, was doing 25 years to life for the 1997 kidnap, torture and hacksaw dismemberment of his former boss.
Prison worker Joyce Mitchell remained in custody on charges she helped the two men escape by providing them hacksaw blades, chisels and other tools. She has pleaded not guilty.
Officials said a corrections officer also has been placed on administrative leave as part of the investigation into the men’s escape. The state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision said no additional information was available.
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