WALLBACK, W.Va. (AP) — The man who killed a West Virginia state trooper and wounded another while being arrested slipped out of his handcuffs and shot the officers with a handgun he had hidden on his body, West Virginia State Police Superintendent Col. Jay Smithers said Wednesday.
Luke Baber, 20, of Oak Hill also shot and wounded a tow truck driver and a Roane County sheriff's deputy before he was fatally shot during an exchange of gunfire with other officers.
"The days ahead will be difficult. We appreciate your continued support," Smithers said at an afternoon news conference at the state police headquarters in South Charleston.
State police Cpl. Marshall Lee Bailey and Trooper Eric Workman pulled over a pickup truck Baber was driving at the Wallback park-and-ride off Interstate 79 around 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Smithers said. The troopers were responding to a report from Nicholas County dispatchers of a truck traveling erratically on the interstate. They determined that the driver was intoxicated and arrested him.
Smithers said the truck had been stolen in Oak Hill. Investigators believe Baber was going to Morgantown, where his sister is a student at West Virginia University.
Smithers said the troopers searched Bailey before handcuffing him and putting him in the back seat of their cruiser but they did not discover the 9mm handgun he had hidden. His hands were cuffed in front of him.
"They just missed it," he said.
Police have not determined where the gun was hidden but it likely was in the groin area, Smithers said.
Bailey died at the scene. Workman was in a coma and in critical condition Wednesday at a Charleston hospital, Smithers said.
The troopers were shot while waiting for a tow truck to arrive to retrieve the pickup truck. When the tow truck arrived, Baber shot the driver, William Massey, in the arm and fled on foot. Massey called for help and dozens of law enforcement officers from several agencies converged on the small asphalt parking lot and began searching for Baber, who had taken Marshall's gun.
Sheriff's deputies from Clay and Roane counties encountered Baber in a wooded area not far from the park-and-ride area. They exchanged gunfire with Baber and he died after being shot multiple times. Roane County sheriff's Deputy John Westfall was shot several times and suffered non-life threatening injuries. He was in stable condition Wednesday at a Charleston hospital, Smithers said.
Investigators have not determined which officer killed Baber.
Roane County Prosecutor Josh Downey said the deputy was shot in both arms and in the chest, which was protecting by his bullet-proof vest.
"We're praying for our deputy's recovery ..." Downey said, adding a note of deep concern for the troopers.
The law enforcement community is tight in this rural county of about 15,000, he said. In all, fewer than 20 state troopers, deputies and city police patrol the area.
"They all know each other very well," Downey said. "The only difference between them all is the color of their uniform."
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said the outpouring of support from dozens of officers who came to the hospital where the injured were taken Tuesday was comforting to the wounded officers' families.
"In a situation like this, they're still in shock," said the governor, who met with the families.
"We sometimes forget that valuable services that police officers offer to the people of West Virginia," Tomblin said. "They are out there, day in and day out 24 hours a day, doing what they do."
On Wednesday morning, seven cars were parked at the lot where the troopers were shot and there were no signs of the struggle just 12 hours earlier.
It was the first fatal shooting involving a trooper in 19 years.
According to the State Police website, the last fatal shooting of an on-duty trooper was in April 1993, when Trooper Larry G. Hacker in Harrisville was killed while responding to a dispute between two neighbors. Suspect Dennis Ferguson, 67, of Pullman, later killed himself in jail.
In 2007, a state trooper died after losing control of his cruiser on state Route 9 in Charles Town. Trooper B.W. Linn was responding to another trooper who was involved in a foot pursuit of a suspect at a convenience store.
The State Police website lists 38 previous trooper deaths since 1920 in which 18 involved shootings and 15 others involved traffic accidents.
Associated Press writer Pam Ramsey contributed to this report from Charleston.