In upstate New York, locals weary as manhunt continues for prison escapee
A dangerous escaped murderer could be on the loose somewhere near this isolated town, but residents say they have grown weary of the intense manhunt that is consuming daily life.
Hundreds of law enforcement officers, including state troopers and U.S. Border Patrol agents, combed through thick woodlands Saturday looking for David Sweat, who, along with fellow convicted killer Richard Matt, escaped weeks ago from a maximum-security prison about 40 miles east.
“It’s definitely the buzz,” said Brent Supernault, a Malone resident and the general manager of Adirondack Hardware. “Usually, everybody comes in here and talks about the weather. Now, they talk about the killers.”
Matt, 48, and Sweat, 35, are said to have tricked correctional officers at the Clinton Correctional Center in Dannemora by making dummies and stuffing them into their beds the night they fled. They were discovered missing June 6 at a 5:30 a.m. bed check.
Authorities say the men used power tools to cut through metal and brick walls and pipes, then made their way via underground tunnels and pipes to a manhole a few hundred feet from the prison walls. They emerged from the manhole and fled.
Two prison employees have been arrested — one on suspicion of smuggling hacksaw blades and other tools to the inmates, the other on suspicion of promoting prison contraband and tampering with evidence. Both have pleaded not guilty.
Julia Holmes, 75, a co-owner of North of Adirondack Artists gallery, described the scene in Malone after Matt was discovered in the nearby woods on Friday.
“State trooper [cruisers] were pouring out into the streets like someone had opened a funnel, and they just kept coming,” Holmes said. That evening, while driving to an event in Plattsburgh, about 50 miles southeast, she pulled over to let a convoy of state troopers pass and counted 60 vehicles, she said.
Matt was shot dead when he ignored commands to drop a weapon, authorities say. It was unclear whether he and Sweat had remained together, but authorities said they had no evidence the pair had split up.
Holmes, a widow who lives alone, said after their escape she had worried about her safety, knowing the fugitives could be close by. But now, she just wants to get on with her life.
“At first, I was locking everything, my house, but then I thought, if someone wants to get in, they’ll get in,” she said. Her house abuts a wooded area and has French doors, which could easily be broken.
“I’m not going to let it take over my life anymore. To live in fear is not a healthy thing,” Holmes said.
Sweat was serving a sentence of life without parole for killing a sheriff’s deputy in Broome County in 2002. Matt was serving 25 years to life for killing and dismembering his former boss.
On Saturday, investigators identified a 22-square-mile area where Sweat could be hiding, between Malone and the town of Duane, 18 miles to the south. State police set up a roadblock on Route 30 outside Malone, stopping all unofficial cars from entering the search area.
Supernault, of Adirondack Hardware, said since the killers’ escape he has been helping customers make keys for their homes. In Malone, a town of 14,000 about 14 miles south of the Canadian border, residents do not usually lock their doors.
“That’s just not common around here,” he said. “All of a sudden, everyone wants to lock up and they don’t have keys.”
One positive development for Malone has been an uptick in business.
Lynn Hosler, owner of Hosler Family Restaurant, said she welcomed the extra customers. Hotels and motels are all booked too, she said. “That never happens.”
In Plattsburgh, an overnight hotel clerk said Duane “Dog” Chapman, of television’s “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” came by around 2 a.m. Saturday in search of a room — without success.
A television bounty hunter’s arrival might be considered a stranger-than-fiction turn of events, but Holmes said the reality of the past few weeks has been strange enough.
“This is turning into a TV show, but it’s surreal because I’m in it,” she said.
Haller is a special correspondent.
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