PA State Police Chase, Standoff Ends with 1 Dead, 1 in Custody

Incident Started when Dept. of Conservation Ranger Investigated Possible Illegal Camp Site

From The Herald Standard Newspaper by Susy Kelly, September 29, 2013

man is dead and a woman is in police custody after a standoff that lasted nearly 10 hours in North Union Township on Friday.

Donald Ray Brown, 53, of Buckhannon, W.Va., was found dead when police finally entered the home at 216 Center Avenue where he had barricaded himself. Police said Saturday that Brown had died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, however the official cause of death remains pending further investigation.

Brown’s alleged accomplice, Jessica Lynn Phillips, 28, also of Buckhannon, W.Va., has been charged with four counts of aggravated assault, attempted homicide, conspiracy to commit homicide, three counts of reckless endangerment, fleeing or attempting to elude police and several other charges in connection with the police chase that led to the standoff.

Jessica Phillips

Jessica Phillips.

Photo by Amanda Steen | Herald-Standard

Phillips was arraigned before Magisterial District Judge Joseph M. George Jr. and placed in Fayette County Prison on $1 million straight cash bond.

According to the criminal complaint, Department of Conservation of Natural Resources Ranger Kip Hursh called state police at around 11:45 a.m. requesting assistance in the area of Wheeler Bottom in Dunbar Township.

Hursh told police he found a suspicious male and female, allegedly Brown and Phillips, camping along the Youghiogheny River in a gray Ford F150 Raptor registered in West Virginia and a black utility-type trailer the two were apparently living in.

Hursh said he was initially contacted by Ohiopyle State Park Manager Jim Juran, who reported seeing a man and woman camping near the bike trail off Riverside Drive.

Police said Hursh investigated the scene and suspected the pair were producing or attempting to produce methamphetamine after finding propane tanks, plastic tubing and containers with an unknown clear liquid inside.

Hursh told police when he approached Brown and Phillips, they were “acting nervous”, according to the criminal complaint. He reportedly asked the two what they were doing, and they said they were homeless and had been there since Tuesday, police said. Hursh said he got permission to look in the trailer and when he started to open the door, a call came over his radio that alerted them that state police were on the way to the scene.

Brown and Phillips then allegedly fled in the truck. Police said Hursh pursued the two but lost them.

State Police Trooper Nathan Swink caught up with the truck in downtown Connellsville, police said, and followed the suspects along West Crawford Avenue, through Dunbar Township and onto Bute Road in North Union Township.

During the chase, police said someone in the truck fired approximately five shots at the pursuing officer.

Two state troopers attempted to block the roadway at Bute and Oliver Roads, but the driver continued on, nearly striking both fully marked and occupied police cars, police said.

When Brown and Phillips reached the intersection of Bute Road and North Gallatin Avenue Extension, police said the truck failed to negotiate the left turn and crashed into a residence at 500 North Gallatin Avenue.

Buddy Marra, owner of Marras’s Mountaineer Shop just a few houses away from where the truck came to rest, said that he heard the crash from inside his store around noon.

Police secured a search warrant from Magisterial District Judge Wendy D. Dennis for the truck and found a shotgun and assault rifle inside. A search warrant was also issued for the area along the bike trail where the incident originated.

Police said a witness allegedly saw Brown and Phillips run to a nearby house belonging to Norma Sherlock at 216 Center Avenue, behind the scene of the crash. Police said they attempted reach Sherlock by phone but there was no answer.

Anna and Tom Gray, who also live on Center Avenue, said they were not certain, but they did not believe Sherlock was home when Brown and Phillips entered the home. They said they saw a woman, later identified as Phillps, come out of Sherlock’s home with her hands up, but Brown remained inside.

For several hours, state police and tactical units surrounded the house, attempting to coax Brown out.

“We know there’s a lot going on in your head right now,” police told Brown. “We want to help you.”

“Donald, if you can hear me, let me know you’re okay. Can you move the curtains?” police called.

A recording of Phillips pleading with Brown was also played. “Babe, it’s Jess,” she said. “I don’t want to see you get hurt. I love you.”

Flash grenades were detonated and still no response came from the house. Tactical vehicles moved in and broke windows, and waited.

Police communication into the house became more stern as time wore on. “Come on, Donald. You need to come out the front door right now,” police called. “You need to step up. Quit being stubborn and come outside.”

Some time after sunset, police sent two robotic vehicles to the front entrance of the house. After the robots attempted to open the door, a tactical truck with a long battering ram attached to the front approached. That truck then moved to the back, and another Bobcat-type vehicle with a battering ram also approached.

Shortly before 9 p.m., approximately eight officers entered the house. No shots were fired from within, and about five minutes later, the officers calmly exited, guns no longer drawn. An official from the Fayette County Coroner’s office later confirmed that Brown was dead.

An autopsy was conducted Saturday by forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht, however the results were not immediately available.

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