Image: Standoff becomes blaze
Firefighters battle a blaze at the farmhouse in Margaretville, N.Y.
updated 4/26/2007 11:36:35 AM ET 2007-04-26T15:36:35

The smoldering ashes of a quiet farmhouse and the body found inside left investigators with many questions but no certainties — except the identity of the dead person as the suspect authorities had been pursuing in three shootings of state troopers, one fatally.

A state police official said Thursday morning that the body found in a burned farmhouse in Delaware County was that of shooting suspect Travis D. Trim, a 23-year-old from northern New York suspected of shooting the troopers. Police had been looking for him since a trooper was shot during a routine traffic stop Tuesday in rural upstate New York.

Earelier, Preston Felton, acting superintendent of the New York State Police, said there was a “reasonable degree of certainty” that Trim was hiding in the unoccupied house in Delaware County when the fire broke out.

The question of Trim's identity was just one of the questions investigators were trying to answer.

Among the others: Had the non-incendiary tear gas canisters fired into the house by troopers ignited — or fed — the blaze? Had the person set the fire to cover an escape attempt?

The pursuit began Tuesday, after a trooper stopped Trim in a stolen minivan for a minor traffic infraction in the Margaretville area, about 65 miles southwest of Albany.

When Trim failed to provide identification, Trooper Matthew Gombosi told him he was under arrest, Felton said. Then, he said, Trim pulled a handgun from his waistband and shot Gombosi. Gombosi’s body armor kept him from being seriously injured, but the suspect escaped, police said.

Police swept the area and found the stolen Dodge Caravan abandoned on a road in nearby Middletown.

The farmhouse where Trim apparently holed up, in a hamlet called Arkville, is on a property that includes two red barns. Neighbors described it as a weekend residence.

Wednesday morning, Troopers David C. Brinkerhoff and Richard Mattson were shot while searching the farmhouse, Felton said.

Brinkerhoff, who was shot in the head, died shortly after the shooting. Mattson, wounded in the left arm, was in serious but stable condition after surgery at Albany Medical Center, where he had been taken by helicopter.

Brinkerhoff, 29, was an eight-year member of the state police.

The fire erupted soon after an armored vehicle rolled up and police fired tear gas into the farmhouse. SWAT teams tried to enter the home at about 5:50 p.m., but were driven back by the flames. Half the house was burning by 6:15 p.m.

Fire's origins unclear
Felton said police fired a “non-incendiary type” device containing tear gas into the home at about 6 p.m. as troopers stormed in to search for Trim. A robot and cameras mounted on poles had been used to check every room except one where Trim was believed holed up during the day, he said.

Image: Travis D. Trim
Shooting supect Travis D. Trim, 23, shown in an undated photo.
It’s possible Trim set the fire, Felton said, or a tear gas round could have ignited something in the house.

The home’s owner, Rommel Aujero, was aware that it burned and “appears to be a very understanding man,” Felton said. A phone number for Aujero could not be located.

Trim is from North Lawrence, in St. Lawrence County about 10 miles south of the Canadian border. He has a 2005 conviction for driving while intoxicated and aggravated, unlicensed operation, but his grandmother said he had tried to turn his life around.

“He wanted to go to college. We talked to his probation officer to help fix it up,” Ruth Trim said in a telephone interview from her home in Dickinson Center. “I’m devastated. He was going to go to college to make something of himself. Now, he’s really ruined his life.”

‘He had no bad dealings here’
Trim had been enrolled briefly at the State University of New York-Canton but withdrew in November, said Randy Sieminski, a school spokesman.

He had been arrested on charges of marijuana possession and providing alcohol to a minor while at SUNY-Canton, but his family and officials at schools he attended were stunned to hear he was a shooting suspect.

“It’s all so bizarre,” said Mark Hill, a SUNY-Canton instructor who had Trim in a freshman class. “He had no bad dealings here. He got along with everyone and worked well in team settings.”

Last summer, Ralph “Bucky” Phillips led police on a five-month manhunt throughout western New York after breaking out of a county jail. He shot one trooper during a traffic stop and two others who were searching for him. One of those troopers died.

Phillips was captured in September and is serving two life sentences.

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