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Escape stirs painful memories for father of slain deputy

Phillip Tarsia is still haunted by the death of his son, Deputy Sheriff Kevin Tarsia, at the hands of David Sweat, one of two convicted murderers who fled into a rural expanse of northern New York after staging an elaborate prison escape that was discovered Saturday.

Sweat killed Tarsia’s son, a deputy in Broome County in a park near the Pennsylvania border early on July 4, 2002, as Sweat divided the spoils of a burglary with two other men. The deputy confronted them, and two of the burglars opened fire.

Sweat and Richard Matt escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility, an all-male maximum security prison in Dannemora, near the Canadian border. An extensive manhunt continued.

In a phone interview, Tarsia said the escape of his son’s killer brought much of that time rushing back.

“They were switching guns and switching cars and that’s where it all happened,” Tarsia said. “He was all by himself. He was working the night shift. He lived up the road.”

The loss of his son has turned Independence Day into a somber occasion, Tarsia said, as his family gathers to reflect on the young man’s life.

“We celebrate Kevin at the park on the Fourth,” he said. “We go there every year.”

Sweat and his companions had just burglarized a fireworks store in Pennsylvania when Kevin Tarsia confronted them. Tarsia was shot 22 times.

The men left his body lying in a parking lot. It was discovered the next day, Tarsia said.

“They had no respect for life or anything,” he said. “They were criminals.”