Heavily-armed troopers called in from around the state searched vehicles at dozens of checkpoints in rural and heavily wooded Chautauqua County, backing up traffic as they inspected trunks and talked to drivers in a stepped-up effort to capture Ralph "Bucky" Phillips.
Phillips is the prime suspect in the attack on troopers Joseph Longobardo, 32, and Donald Baker Jr., 38, who were shot in woods behind the isolated hilltop home of Phillips' ex-girlfriend, Kasey Crowe.
The troopers were part of the hunt for Phillips launched after the shooting of another trooper June 10, state police said. Both of the latest victims were in critical condition Friday, authorities said.
"It's time for Bucky Phillips to go back to jail. Enough is enough," State Police Superintendent Wayne Bennett said early Friday.
The New York Times reported that the hunt for Phillips, who has served more than two decades in jail, had turned him into a cult figure among local residents.
Authorities said Phillips had threatened police after the Aug. 21 arrest of Crowe, their daughter and the daughter's boyfriend. Crowe was accused of giving Phillips fresh clothing and a place to stay in her home the day before her arrest.
"I don't call it revenge. I call it attempted murder," Bennett said of the threats and the latest shootings.
Phillips, 44, escaped from jail in April and has been traveling back and forth between Philadelphia and western New York, Bennett said.
Each trooper was shot once with what police believe is a high-powered rifle that may have been stolen along with 40 other weapons from a local gun shop over the weekend.
One trooper was shot in the back with a bullet that pierced his bullet-resistant vest and exited through his abdomen. The other officer was shot in the thigh and suffered massive blood loss from a severed artery, Bennett said. Both men, based out of Troop G north of Albany, underwent surgery.
"It's clear to me the troopers were ambushed," Bennett said.
Neither trooper saw Phillips before they were shot and neither returned fire. One radioed for help, Bennett said. Longobardo was taken to Erie County Medical Center and Baker was being treated at Hamot Medical Center in Erie, Pa.
Bennett, who flew from Albany to the state police barracks in Fredonia, ordered 75 additional troopers to help with the manhunt.
Phillips used a can opener to escape through the ceiling of the Erie County Jail on April 2, police said. He is wanted in the shooting of Trooper Sean Brown near Elmira, N.Y., on June 10. Brown survived after being shot in the abdomen as he approached a stolen car believed to be driven by Phillips.
Since his escape, Phillips has woven his way through western New York and neighboring Pennsylvania, evading police and helping himself to food, clothes and guns in unattended homes and hunting cabins while leaving a telltale trail of stolen vehicles along the way.
Phillips is believed to have stolen about 15 cars since his escape and he is suspected in numerous burglaries, police said.
A $50,000 reward offered for information leading to Phillips' arrest and conviction has so far not stopped friends and family members from helping Phillips avoid capture, police said.