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Body found in home after N.Y. trooper's death may have been gunman

The Associated Press

New York State Police investigators survey damage to a farmhouse in Arkville, N.Y., Thursday. The house caught fire as law enforcement officers approached it on Wednesday in an attempt to apprehend a suspect who is believed to have shot three troopers, one fatally. A body was recovered from the house but positive identification has not been confirmed. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
MARGARETVILLE, N.Y. — Authorities recovered a body Wednesday night from the shell of a house destroyed by fire after police raided it in search of a man suspected of shooting three New York state troopers, one fatally.

However, "The body was slumped in a doorway holding a rifle," said Preston Felton, acting superintendent of the New York State Police.

Just before the flames erupted, police fired a "non-incendiary" tear gas canister into the home, Felton said. But they weren't sure how the fire started.

Felton said Trim might have set the fire, or a tear gas round could have ignited something.

"We are looking closer at the type of round that was fired into the residence, the type of tear gas round," he said.

Felton said police fired the tear gas into the home around 6 p.m. as troopers stormed in to search room-by-room. A robot and cameras mounted on poles had been used to check every room but one where Trim was believed holed up during the day, he said.

Sharpshooters were in position but fired no shots, Felton said.

"I can't tell you whether he was dead or alive when the fire started," he said of the person found in the house.

It was unclear who owned the property, which included two red barns and was described as by neighbors as a weekend residence in Arkville, a hamlet near Margaretville.

The standoff came seven months after the arrest of a man who shot three troopers, one fatally, during a months-long manhunt in western New York.

The first shooting Trim was accused of occurred Tuesday, after a trooper stopped him in a stolen minivan for a minor traffic infraction in the Margaretville area.

When Trim failed to provide identification, Trooper Matthew Gombosi told him he was under arrest, said Preston L. Felton, acting superintendent of the State Police. Then, Felton said, Trim pulled a handgun from his waistband and shot Gombosi. His body armor kept him from being seriously injured, but the suspect escaped, police said.

Police swept the area and found the stolen Dodge Caravan abandoned on a road in nearby Middletown.

Wednesday morning, Troopers David C. Brinkerhoff and Richard Mattson were shot while searching the Arkville farm for Trim, Felton said.

"They had a good 20 shots going back and forth," said Chan Squires of Margaretville, who witnessed the shootings. "You could hear them ringing out."

The wounded troopers were pulled from the house by two other officers who were helping search the farm.

Brinkerhoff, who was shot in the head, died shortly afterward. Mattson, wounded in the left arm, was in serious but stable condition after surgery at Albany Medical Center, where he had been taken by helicopter.

Brinkerhoff, 29, an eight-year member of the state police, is survived by his wife and a 7-month-old daughter.

Last summer, Ralph "Bucky" Phillips led police on a five-month manhunt throughout heavily wooded western New York after breaking out of a county jail. He shot one trooper during a traffic stop and two others who were searching for him. One of those troopers died.

Phillips was captured in September and is serving two life sentences. After that manhunt, the union that represents state troopers sharply criticized the way state police officials managed the search.

Trim had a record of arrests for nonviolent crimes, but his grandmother said he had tried to turn his life around.

"He wanted to go to college. We talked to his probation officer to help fix it up," Ruth Trim said by phone from her home in Dickinson Center before the body was recovered. "I'm devastated. He was going to go to college to make something of himself."

A New York Court of Appeals ruling in 2005 effectively nullified the death penalty in the state. Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno said his chamber would approve legislation next week to bring it back for the killing of police officers and prison guards and in cases of deaths caused by terrorists.

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