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The search intensifies: authorities scour rural stretch for 2 escapees

Posted by keshiaclukey on April 20, 2016 at 10:15 AM

Albany Times Union
The search intensifies: authorities scour rural stretch for 2 escapees
By Keshia Clukey
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WILLSBORO—Heavily armed state Department of Corrections and Community Supervision officers spent most of Tuesday scouring through swamps, woods and farm fields of a small community on Lake Champlain in the massive manhunt for two convicted killers who escaped from Clinton Correctional Facility. 

Despite grid searches, the nearly 500 state, federal and local authorities have not yet located Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, who broke out of the maximum security prison in Dannemora, near the Canadian border, between Friday night and Saturday morning.
Law enforcement agencies descended onto Middle Road and State Route 22 in Willsboro, about 50 miles south of Dannemora, after a tip called in late Monday night, said State Police Zone Commander John Tibbitts Jr. "We're continuing to follow every lead," he said Tuesday afternoon, though he wouldn't be specific.
Neighbors said someone reported seeing two men run from a gully near 882 Middle Road into the nearby woods. George Sayward, a dairy farmer whose fields run along Middle Road, said he noticed officers near a barn about 5 a.m. Tuesday. He said he later saw a team of officers come out of the nearby woods. "They must have found something good because next thing I know they're coming by the busload," George Sawyard said.
He said it was disturbing to think fugitive killers could be at large in the area. "I'm worried about the neighbors down here," he said. "There are a lot of kids and stuff."
Darren Darrah of 882 Middle Road said he saw police lights on his street at 5 a.m. Tuesday but didn't think too much of it at first because police are always using the street to get to Route 22. He saw a state corrections bus around 8 a.m. before he left to work in Plattsburgh. He returned home after he saw on TV a news crew broadcasting from his yard. "It's surreal," Darrah said. He was apprehensive about letting his ducks out of their coop out of fear the two men could be hiding in the small structure. "You never think anything like this would hit close to home," he said.
 In addition to the state Department of Environmental Conservation and DOCCS, the FBI, U.S. Marshals and U.S. Customs and Border Protection are assisting State Police.
The DOCCS officers walked in groups, stopping to check along railroad tracks that run through the woods and every structure, including barns, abandoned outbuildings and even silos. They continued into the evening despite rain and thunder. A helicopter was also brought in.
State Police issued a statement about 5 p.m., about an hour before officers left the scene, saying that leads continue to be generated along the Clinton and Essex County border and residents will notice an increased police presence. A short drive from Willsboro is the Essex Ferry to Vermont that crosses Lake Champlain. State Police also said law enforcement authorities will be going door to door in and around the surrounding area checking homes and camps in the manhunt.
 Law enforcement still remained strong in Dannemora Tuesday evening, causing locals to believe Matt and Sweat still could be near the village.
When asked if he thought the two remained in the area, Allison Tucker, 73, who lives in nearby Saranac, said: "I'm not gambling on the fact that they aren't."
Tucker, president of the Mountain Lions Snowmobile Club, described intricate trail systems that run through the outskirts of Dannemora and around the small mountain north of it to Lyon Mountain and other communities. The paths include an old, unused railroad as well as hiking and snowmobile trails, Tucker said.
There are also a number of camps that they could seek refuge in, he said. "I keep stuff locked up, and I've been staying out of the woods," Tucker said, adding that he also carries a pistol. Matt and Sweat were housed on an "honor block" at Clinton Correctional Facility, giving them more liberties, including the ability to cook and visit other inmates' cells, according to a person briefed on the matter. The looser restrictions on the honor block tier may have been a factor in the meticulous escape plan.
Matt and Sweat used power tools to cut holes in the backs of their adjacent cells to access a steam pipe that led them to freedom. According to police, several employees, both uniform and civilian of the Clinton Correctional Facility have been interviewed in the investigation, but no arrests have been made.
Matt has been in state prison three times. In 1986, he served nearly four years in Attica prison for forgery and escape charges in Erie County, his home. He returned to state prison in 1993 and spent nearly three years in an Elmira prison for attempted burglary. Not long after his release in 1997, Matt was charged with kidnapping and killing William Rickerson, an Erie County businessman who was beaten and dismembered. Matt fled to Mexico, and in 2008 he was convicted and sentenced to up to life in prison. He'd been extradited from Mexico, where he was serving 25 years to life for killing an American citizen during a robbery.
Sweat, who is from Binghamton, was serving life without parole for killing Broome County Deputy Kevin J. Tarsia in 2002. Published reports say Sweat shot the deputy 22 times.

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