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Capture ends ‘nightmare’

CONSTABLE – State Police Sgt. Jay Cook was driving alone in a patrol car Sunday afternoon when he spotted someone jogging along the side of the road about a mile and a half south of the Canadian border.

Cook signaled to the man, but he seemed to ignore the sergeant, State Police Superintendent Joseph A. D’Amico said.

The shadowy figure finally turned, and Cook recognized the man.

It was David P. Sweat, the escaped murderer who had eluded more than 1,000 federal, state and local police for the last three weeks since breaking out of maximum-security Clinton Correctional Facility.

Sweat took off running.

And Cook, who was by himself, ran after him, chasing him into an open field.

He saw that Sweat was approaching a treeline, and Cook had to make a quick call. Sweat could disappear again into those trees.

Cook fired twice with his handgun and brought Sweat down. The fugitive was not armed.

He was alive but bleeding. And he was captured.

The manhunt had come to end.

Sweat, 35, was taken by ambulance to Alice Hyde Medical Center in Malone, where he underwent surgery, and later transferred to Albany Medical Center where he condition was upgraded from critical to stable condition Monday.

“The nightmare is finally over,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced at a news conference in the Village of Malone, Franklin County, Sunday evening, rushing from New York City where he had walked in the Pride Parade just hours earlier.

It had been 22 days since Sweat, who was serving a life sentence for killing a Broome County sheriff’s deputy, and Richard W. Matt, who was doing 25 to life for the torture, murder and dismemberment of a North Tonawanda businessman, broke out of the state prison in Dannemora by cutting their way into pipes and fleeing through a manhole.

“If you were writing a movie plot, they would say that this was overdone,” Cuomo said of the prison break that has riveted the nation over the last three weeks. “You had hacksaws delivered by a facilitator in ground-up meat. You had two prisoners who were on the honor block. They hacksawed through the back of their cell. They got into the catwalks. The catwalks brought them into a labyrinth of tunnels where they came across a contractor’s job box, large toolbox. One of the prisoners was a burglar, knew how to pick the lock, picked the lock repeatedly.”

Cuomo called the breakout “an extraordinary circumstance and the first escape in over 100 years – but one escape is one escape too many.” He promised a full investigation and said Sweat’s capture will give authorities the opportunity “to ask some more questions and provide more facts.”

When Sweat was finally found, he was north of the heavily wooded Adirondack Mountains and in an area of rolling fields. There are Amish dairy farms in the area.

A photo obtained from the scene of Sweat’s capture taken by CNN showed him wearing dark camouflage. There were many bug bites and blood splotches on his face and head. Another picture that was taken by an unidentified source and posted on Twitter showed Sweat with his shirt off, his arms behind him and his ankles in shackles. An oxygen mask was on his face, and he was being treated by a paramedic.

At the time he was caught Sunday, more than 1,300 federal, state and local officers were on his trail.

They had been concentrating mainly on a 22-square-mile radius around Malone and Duane, in the dense woods around where Matt, 49, was shot dead near Lake Titus by a U.S. Border Patrol tactical team Friday. But police said Sunday that they were spreading out farther north and south of Malone.

In addition, troopers were working their way south from the Canadian border, and that’s when Cook saw Sweat.

Earlier Sunday, Sweat’s DNA was found on a picnic-style pepper shaker in an area about a mile away from where Matt was shot, D’Amico said. When Matt was shot, the tactical team that encountered Matt reported seeing movement nearby, which they speculated was Sweat. But they did not actually see him.

An intense search followed for the next two days. There had, in fact, been no trace of Sweat since DNA tests confirmed June 21 that both had been in a seasonal hunting camp in Owls Head, near Malone, that was reported burglarized the day before.

But on Sunday, a new round of DNA tests came back on the pepper shaker that matched Sweat. The shaker was found in an area where authorities believe Matt and Sweat had been resting.

Pepper is often used by people on the run trying to throw off K-9 units. Ralph “Bucky” Phillips, who escaped from the Erie County Correctional Facility in Alden, used the same tactic when he was on the run in 2006.

Speculation had grown that Sweat had eluded the hundreds of law officers in the manhunt. He had gotten past the main perimeter when Cook caught him. D’Amico said it’s not surprising that Sweat was able to hide for so long in the woods, particularly closer to where Matt was shot and where cabins had been found broken into.

“The terrain is so dense, you can’t see five feet in front of you,” D’Amico said. “You could make your way if you stayed in the treeline. It’s not impossible.”

He defended Cook’s use of force on Sweat, who was unarmed.

“If Sweat made the treeline, he would have been gone,” D’Amico said.

Cuomo congratulated the 1,300 law enforcement officers for bringing the manhunt to an end and thanked the people of New York, especially those in Franklin and Clinton County for staying strong through the ordeal.

“It’s nice when it ends well,” Cuomo said. “… Everyone goes home safe. The escapees have been dealt with. We couldn’t have a better ending.”

email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com and mbecker@buffnews.com