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Departments : Shots Fired

Shots Fired: Bloomfield, Vermont 08/19/1997

One heavily armed man declared war on his community, and a New Hampshire trooper and a Border Patrol agent had to take desperate action to stop him.

February 25, 2011  |  by - Also by this author

New Hampshire State Trooper Charles West was named IACP Officer of the Year in 1998.

Having shot a third officer, Drega drove the New Hampshire unit south to a remote area in Vermont where he parked near a farm and cranked up the volume of the police radio so as to call attention to the car.

When the farm' s owner called authorities to report that he'd located the stolen cruiser parked on his property, a multi-agency command post was established nearby. To compensate for a lack of interagency radio frequencies, a New Hampshire cruiser and a Vermont cruiser were parked side-by-side at the staging area to facilitate communication. The farmer and his son were soon at the command post to point out the general direction of the cruiser and a search team was quickly put together to investigate.

Multi-Agency Response

Among the officers that responded to the staging area was New Hampshire State Trooper Charles West. The 14-year veteran emerged from his unmarked car just as a multi-agency team of officers was descending on the road leading to the stolen patrol unit. The team included U.S. Border Patrol Agent John Pfeifer, Vermont State Troopers Russ Robinson (with his K-9) and Eric Albright, Vermont Sheriff Amos Colby, and New Hampshire State Troopers Jeff Caulder and Robert Haase.

West donned a State Police windbreaker and quickly jumped in behind the group headed down the road. He didn't like the tactics, but he suppressed his reservations he had about making a staggered line approach down the middle of the road in deference to the command coordinators. For one, he hadn't been party to the briefing that'd taken place prior to his arrival. For another, he was aware of his own tactical concession: The lack of any ballistic protection. He rationalized that since the suspect was armed with an assault rifle, it was probably a moot point.

According to the farmers, Trooper Phillips' car was parked at the end of a dirt road, backed in to face anyone who might approach it from the road. West would later learn that the command post suspected that Drega had abandoned the car and possibly left the area on foot. That the farmers themselves hadn't been shot only served to strengthen the suspicion. It was from this mindset that the plan was made for the men to approach the car on foot in the hopes that the K-9 could pick up Drega's scent and track the man from there.

What nobody knew was that Drega had doubled back about 75 yards toward the access road before insinuating himself among trees on one of the banks that flanked the road.

The officers were essentially walking into an ambush.

Officers Down

Vermont State Trooper Russ Robinson's K-9 alerted to something off to the group's right. Robinson fell back as Pfeifer and Caulder took the point.

Caulder saw the man emerge from behind a tree. For a split-second, he was taken aback by the incongruous image of a man wearing a trooper's hat pointing a rifle at him.

Drega fired.

Struck near the groin, Caulder fell. Seconds later, another shot rang out. And Pfeifer went down just as he moved to render aid to Caulder.

Despite their critical injuries, Caulder and Pfeifer sought cover against the lower edge of the bank where Drega was firing from. Pfeifer's chest wound left him on the ground a short way from the bank, but out of reach of his fellow officers. From the back of the line, West slowly scooted along the bank to meet Caulder, who slowly inched toward him.

As others pressed their bodies against the bank and continued to lay down a barrage of cover fire, West eventually reached Caulder. Using the drag strap on the back of Caulder's vest, the pair began a low crawl back toward the staging area.

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