State Police Commissioner Visits Seriously Injured Troopers in Hospital
The two state police troopers, seriously hurt when a fleeing suspect crashed into their car in Corry over the weekend, received a hospital visit Monday from Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Colonel Robert Evanchick. They also received a call from Governor Tom Wolf on Sunday.
Erie News Now got a closer look at the damaged troop car, to understand just what the two Lawrence Park troopers, with just three and four years service, went through when their car was hit. They had joined the pursuit of suspects fleeing from a reported armed robbery attempt in Corry early Saturday morning.
According to Captain Kirk Reese, Commanding Officer of Troop E, everyone who sees the damaged state police car is surprised the female trooper driving, and the male trooper in the passenger seat survived.
Corry Police Chief Rich Shopene said the pursuit started with a 911 call for an armed robbery in progress from an upstairs tenant at 419 East Washington Street. He said the caller saw a suspect get out of dark SUV, and put what appeared to be a gun in his waistband, then approach her door. That woman, who declined to be interviewed on camera by Erie News Now, admitted to knowing the suspect, but said she wasn't aware of his identity when he arrived at her home, so she took her baby in a closet and called for help. When Corry police arrived, the suspect and his driver took off, and refused to pull over.
State Police say the Erie based troopers were trying to get in front of the pursuit, to stop fleeing driver 23- year-old Austin Lee Miller. They planned to lay down spike strips, when he surprised them from the side, running a stop sign at the intersection of Worth Street and West Smith Street.
"They had gotten in front of the pursuit one time," said Captain Reese, "but they didn't have time to stop and get out, and the suspect vehicle went around them, so they were still trying to get back in front when the crash occurred at a different intersection."
The troop car was hit on the rear quarter panel of the passenger side, spun around and slammed into a utility pole, then rolled up against a tree so hard it that the impact took down the tree. The troopers had to be extricated by rescuers.
Police defended the decision to pursue the suspect, based on the information they had at the time. "Pursuits are a very tough decision to make," said Chief Shopene, "but with the information we had, we had an armed person trying to break into an occupied apartment, who then fled." State Police Captain Reese agreed, after listening to a recording of the 911 call. "I mean if you're a woman home alone with small children in your house and someone's breaking in with a gun in their hand, these are the people...this is why we do the job," he said.
Although they are in good spirits, the troopers' injuries are extensive and recovery is expected to take months. "The female trooper has fractures to her pelvis, a fractured vertebrae in her back, she has other injuries and a lot of bruising, but she's surviving she's doing well," the commander said. "The male trooper has a broken collar bone, broken clavicle, broken tibia and he has several staples in his head from where his scalp was lacerated open," he added.
At this point, Captain Reese said the troopers don't remember the impact. As they recover at UPMC Hamot, he said they appreciated the visit from the commissioner, the call from the governor and well wishes from the community on social media.
Austin Lee Miller remains behind bars facing charges including aggravated assault by vehicle while DUI, recklessly endangering another person, possession of drug paraphernalia and resisting arrest. According to the criminal complaint there were six hypodermic needles in the car.
The second suspect was transported to UPMC Hamot after the accident, where he apparently walked away in his hospital gown. The weapon that was seen, may have been an air-soft pistol recovered by Corry investigators in an alley near the apartment house. That suspect is known to Corry police, he may face charges when the investigation is complete.
Erie News Now's full interview with Captain Reese