The Associated Press
SHERIDAN, N.Y.- Trooper Sean Pierce says he thinks a thousand times a day about the shooting that left a young all-terrain vehicle operator dead, but remains convinced he had to fire to save his own life.
During the height of the manhunt for Ralph "Bucky" Phillips, critics pointed to Bradley Horton's death at the hands of a trooper in June as evidence the state police were mishandling the search.
Horton family members questioned whether troopers mistook the 25-year-old for the fugitive escaped convict suspected of shooting three troopers, one fatally, before his capture Sept. 8.
"It was never in my mind that this could be Bucky," Pierce said during an interview last week, adding that troopers were routinely shown photos and composite sketches of Phillips. "This was a kid, someone in his 20s, a white male, not a Native American in his 40s."
Pierce, 29, described clinging to Horton's back for more than half a mile on a pitch-black country road as Horton's ATV sped along after troopers tried to pull it over. His gun belt was looped around the vehicle's luggage rack and there was no jumping off, even when the driver slowed, he said.
"I shouted to him, 'I'm going to shoot you. Just stop,"' Pierce said when he pulled out his gun and pressed it into Horton's back.
"He just shouted back, `Get off. (expletive) off. Just get off.' I shouted four or five times, as loud as I could, `I'm going to shoot,"' Pierce said.
As the ATV continued to race along, Pierce, a 7 1/2-year veteran of the state police, said he ran out of options. "So I fired."
Horton, shot at least four times, died from his wounds in an Erie, Pa., hospital.
Chautauqua County District Attorney David Foley is expected to take the case to a grand jury.
"We've really put our trust and confidence in the district attorney, that he's done everything he can to find the truth and that he will present those facts to the grand jury," Gloria Horton, Bradley's mother, said Monday. "And we hope the grand jury makes the appropriate recommendation."
Pierce said he was not trying to kill Horton, but to incapacitate him so he would stop accelerating. He had grabbed onto the back of the ATV when the driver accelerated as troopers approached. Pierce and his partner had noticed Horton and another young man on a dirt bike riding without helmets along a road at 12:40 a.m. on June 25. They intended to tell the riders to stay off the road, Pierce said.
Horton did slow down once during the approximately seven-tenths of a mile ride to give Pierce a chance to jump off. But the trooper said he could not because his gun belt was caught.
"I yelled to him, `I can't get off. I'm stuck.' I was yelling at the top of my lungs," he said.
For part of the ride, the trooper's knees and then his boots were touching the asphalt. When it was over, his boots were worn to the lining, his pants and shirt ripped and his watch and gun belt scraped, said Pierce's attorney, Thomas Burton.
The lawyer said he had found no evidence to support claims that after the shooting people heard troopers boasting over police scanners that Phillips had been caught.
Information from: The Buffalo News, http://www.buffalonews.com
N.Y. trooper details shooting rider while being dragged by ATV