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9/13/2006
01:55 PM
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Text Messaging Helps Nab Fugitive

Law enforcement officials in New York and Pennsylvania couldn't communicate with their own radios as they closed in on a fugitive charged with killing a New York State Trooper.

A high-speed mobile phone network was pressed into service in the search for a fugitive charged with killing a New York State Trooper, authorities said this week.

When law enforcement officials realized they couldn't communicate with their own radios as they closed in on Ralph "Bucky" Phillips near the New York border with Pennsylvania, they requested 20 cell phones from Cellular One.

According to law enforcement, Phillips crisscrossed creeks attempting to escape police dogs, who were closing in on him while helicopters circled the skies above. Hundreds of police officers participated in the chase.

As it happens, Cellular One had recently upgraded its GSM/GPRS/EDGE network in recent months, which enabled law enforcement officers to remain in touch with each other. The phones' text messaging capability was used extensively, said a spokesman for the mobile phone service provider.

"I understand our phones played an instrumental role in capturing him," Cellular One spokesman Craig Davis said Wednesday. "The Sheriff's office contacted us for phones" after it was determined that police radios in the wooded area couldn't communicate with each other.

Tech Sgt. Vince Gerace of the Chautauqua County Sheriff's Office praised Cellular One for providing the 20 phones so quickly. In a statement, he said: "These wireless phones played a pivotal role in the capture (of Phillips) when police radios were ineffective. In addition to voice service, law enforcement officials used Cellular One's wireless data services to send and receive e-mails and text messages."

Even before Trooper Joseph A. Longobardo was shot on Aug. 31, Phillips was wanted in the shooting of another trooper.

Davis said Cellular One had invested $3.5 million in upgrading its network in the area over the past three years.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Phillips was also wanted in the fatal shooting of another trooper. The fact is he was also wanted in the shooting of another trooper, but that officer recovered.

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