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At 2 memorials, evidence of rage Signs of grief on rural roads reveal the unhealed wounds from the Bucky Phillips saga

Amid the rolling green hills of Chautauqua County that hid Ralph "Bucky" Phillips for five months last summer, an undercurrent of support still exists for the cop killer.

Phillips' family and friends know he did wrong by fatally shooting Trooper Joseph A. Longobardo and wounding his partner, Donald H. Baker Jr., but they object to honoring the slain trooper on Bucky's old turf.

Some of them made a very public statement last weekend.

Under the cover of darkness, much in the way of Phillips, one or more individuals removed two signs that designated a stretch of Bacheller Hill Road as "Joseph A. Longobardo Memorial Drive."

Even the troopers realize that if the signs are replaced, they probably will come down again.

Phillips' supporters believe that during last summer's massive search, a trooper unnecessarily killed one of their own -- Bradley A. Horton, a shirttail relative of Phillips. And they don't forget.

"It's a slap in the face to this county and the Horton family. I'm sure there are thousands of people in the county who thought of pulling those damn signs down," said Shawn Horton, an aunt to both Bradley Horton and Phillips' three grandchildren and the link between the Hortons and Phillips' relations.

During the search for Phillips in June 2006, a trooper had tried to stop Horton, who was driving an all-terrain vehicle without a helmet on a rural road. The trooper's gun belt became caught on the ATV, dragging him nearly a mile before the trooper fatally shot the young man. A grand jury later cleared the trooper of wrongdoing.

"The politicians said Joe Longobardo isn't going to be forgotten, and we're glad for that," Shawn Horton said, "but Bradley isn't going to be forgotten, either."

Friends had marked with a cross and flowers the spot where Horton collapsed after being shot. Earlier this week, the roadside cross was stolen, but a replacement was promptly put up.

"Payback is a bitch," said Justin Horton, a cousin of Bradley, who believes that someone stole the marker in retaliation for the theft of the signs honoring Longobardo.

State Police Capt. Steven A. Nigrelli has no illusions that the memorial signs to Longobardo would again be in jeopardy if they are replaced on Bacheller Hill Road, not far from where the trooper was shot and where Phillips' former girlfriend lives.

"It was because of the close proximity to the property where the troopers were shot," Nigrelli said in explaining placement of the memorials. "You want to get the memorial as close to the site. The Buffalo Police Department has done the same with its fallen officers."

The idea to dedicate a portion of Bacheller Hill Road in honor of Longobardo, Nigrelli added, involved Chautauqua County deputies and Town of Pomfret officials.

Opposition to the tribute, Nigrelli said, is misguided.

"The signs are meant to memorialize a son, a husband and a father who gave his life serving the citizens of Chautauqua County," he said, adding that the majority of residents are law-abiding, "unlike the criminals who stole the signs."

Other residents of the county support the troopers.

In the five days since the memorial signs were stolen, Bacheller Hill Road residents Roland Reesor and Annette Misiak have devoted an hour of each day searching for them. The couple rides about in their golf cart, eyeballing roadside drainage ditches and fields.

"They have no respect for authority today, especially police officers," Misiak said of the thieves.

Phyllis Parks lives directly across from where one of the memorial signs was stolen.

"I don't have any problem with the signs being here," she said. "The signs had been here for about a week and disappeared in the middle of the night."

At Grandma's Family Kitchen, where the controversial "Bucky Burger" was added to the menu in the weeks before the shootings of Longobardo and Baker, the memorial sign theft has left a bad taste.

"I think it's awful," said waitress Courtney Cushman. "No one I know is supporting Phillips, but, of course, he has his family."

Others, closer to Phillips, say the memorial signs should be placed elsewhere.

Norma Gloss, who at times opened her home up to Phillips when he was growing up, said the memorial for Longobardo should be placed in the Albany area where he is from.

"To me, if something happened to one of my sons, if he were a police officer, I'd want it in my own community where we could see it," said Gloss, who is the mother of Kasey Crowe, the mother of Phillips' children, and Shawn Horton.

But she said she doesn't know who took them down.

"None of us in the family had anything to do with taking the signs," Gloss said.
Shawn Horton also said the family had nothing to do with the theft.

"Everyone thinks it was the Horton family, but it wasn't," she said.

Gloss also remains unconvinced that Phillips is responsible for shooting the troopers.

"In the bottom of my heart, I don't think he did it," she said, "but if you back him into a corner, he's going to come out fighting."

Phillips, though, admitted shooting three state troopers when he was a fugitive and is now serving a sentence of life in prison.

Nigrelli says the time has come to move on and forget Phillips.

"Ralph Phillips' 15 minutes of fame is up, but the memory of Joe Longobardo will live forever," the state trooper said.

As proof, Nigrelli recalled the evening Phillips was caught last September: "The residents of Chautauqua County lined the road applauding the state police as we drove by after capturing Phillips."

e-mail: lmichel@buffnews.com

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