Willsboro, NY – State and federal law officers searching for two killers who used power tools to break out of a maximum-security prison poured into a small town 30 miles away Tuesday after getting a report of a possible sighting.
Dozens of officers with arms linked pushed through woods and fields in the town of Willsboro in an apparent attempt to drive their prey toward a road in a neighboring community. The road was lined with officers with rifles.
State Police Capt. John Tibbitts Jr. would not say if authorities believed they were closing in on the inmates.
The officers descended on the town just west of Lake Champlain after residents reported seeing a couple of men walking on a road late Monday during a driving rainstorm.
Authorities have fielded numerous tips since the weekend escape from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, close to the Canadian border, but appeared to have jumped hardest on this one.
David Sweat, 34, and Richard Matt, 48, cut through a steel wall, broke through bricks and crawled through a steam pipe before emerging through a manhole outside the prison grounds.
They were discovered missing early Saturday after stuffing their beds with clothes to fool guards on their rounds and leaving behind a taunting note: “Have a nice day.”
Given the meticulous planning that went into the breakout itself, there was speculation that the inmates had lined up a ride for themselves outside the prison and were long gone from the area. On Monday, authorities said the inmates could be anywhere — perhaps Canada or Mexico.
On Tuesday, Willsboro dairy farmer George Sayward said he saw troopers parked next to his barn around 5 a.m., and they told him they were there because of a possible sighting of the convicts.
Around 7 a.m., Sayward said, he heard one trooper tell another to call in 100 more men.
“The next thing I know, there were a ton of them, by the busload,” Sayward said.
The escape from the 3,000-inmate state prison immediately raised suspicions the men had help on the inside.
Investigators questioned prison workers and outside contractors to try to find out who may have supplied the men with the power tools. Contractors have been doing extensive renovations at the 170-year-old prison, a hulking, fortresslike structure that looms over Dannemora’s main street.
Among other questions raised: Didn’t someone hear the noise from the tools? How did the inmates hide the hole, the dirt and dust from work that probably took days to accomplish? And did they have blueprints or other inside information to find their way through the bowels of the prison?
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said other inmates claimed they didn’t see or hear anything. “They’re all heavy sleepers,” he said sardonically.
And state Assemblyman Daniel O’Donnell, chairman of the Correction Committee, said any inmate who heard drilling wouldn’t dare report it. “That will get you killed — that’s the kind of environment it is,” he said.
A $100,000 reward was posted over the weekend for information leading to the men’s capture.
Sweat was convicted in the 2002 killing of a sheriff’s deputy and was doing life without parole. Matt was serving 25 years to life for kidnapping and dismembering his boss in 1997.