A state trooper responding to a domestic dispute in a rural neighborhood in Venango County was shot and killed yesterday as he got out of his car, and the man believed to be responsible for the shooting and his wife were later found dead inside their home.
State police said Trooper Paul G. Richey was shot around 11:45 a.m. yesterday, shortly after he and another officer arrived at the home of Michael J. Smith and his wife Nancy to investigate a possible domestic dispute. It was an address that state police had visited previously to quell disputes, authorities said.
Trooper Richey, who was wearing a bullet-proof vest, was shot once in the chest as he approached a side entrance to the house, said state police Lt. Col. Tedescung "Lenny" Bandy.
A state police report said that as the officers approached the house, a male voice yelled from a window for the troopers to return to their car. The troopers ordered the man to show himself and that's when the Trooper Richey was shot.
"I don't believe he had a chance," Col. Bandy said. "Whoever took that shot knew he had an advantage. He did not have a chance to defend himself. He was ambushed."
Trooper Jason Whitman radioed for assistance and returned fire, along with other state police responding to the scene. State police said they fired several rounds at the residence while they removed Trooper Richey from the scene.
He was rushed to UPMC Northwest in Cranberry where he was pronounced dead.
Police were called to the home because Mrs. Smith, who worked at a car dealership, had not showed up to work. And police had previously visited the house to settle disputes.
"The troopers at the Franklin barracks weer familiar with Mr. Smith," Col. Bandy said. "Troopers had been to that residence in the past."
Col. Bandy said Mr. Smith, 44, and his wife, 53, were both found in an upstairs bedroom, both with at least one gunshot wound.
Two rifles and a shotgun were also recovered from the house, he said.
Police could not say with certainty, but they believe that Mr. Smith shot his wife before killing himself.
"The preliminary investigation points to that as the most viable scenario," Col. Bandy said.
But they still do not know whether she was killed after the trooper was shot or before.
Authorities said they found the bodies in the home at about 6:15 p.m. They did not immediately enter the home because they thought whoever had fired at Trooper Richey may still have been inside the home.
They tried several times to make contact with Mr. Smith before a state police Special Emergency Response Team and a SWAT team from the city of Pittsburgh arrived on the scene.
In the minutes after the shooting, dozens of officers from other departments converged on the heavily wooded area where the shooting occurred.
Police believed the shooter may have escaped and launched a manhunt, stopping cars in the area and searching trunks. Several schools in the area were placed on lockdown.
Judy Hards, 65, who lives on Bredinsburg Road with her daughter, Sally, was on jury duty for a DUI case being tried in the Venango County Courthouse in Franklin when the shooting took place.
"We were on a lunch break in a restaurant when we saw all the state police coming through Franklin with sirens blaring and lights flashing," Ms. Hards said. "We knew something was wrong.
"When we got back to the courthouse, we found out that there had been a shooting. And we found out that the trooper who was shot was known by many of the people in the courthouse. It was very sad."
Ms. Hards said her daughter, an office worker in Oil City, called her to make sure she was safe and told her not to go home because police had blocked off the road and were searching for Mr. Smith. In the meantime, Ms. Hards said, her grandchildren were among those locked down in one of the schools.
At about 7 p.m., Ms. Hards said, she learned that police had re-opened Bredinsburg Road, and she returned home.
"It's secluded. It's kind of country," said Ms. Hards, who has lived in the same house for more than 40 years.
Her daughter, however, knew Trooper Richey's wife. They graduated together from Cranberry High School.
"It has hit her pretty hard," Ms. Hards said. "It's not a good day for anybody. This is such a small community, that if you don't know the person, then the person you know knows them. It hits kind of close to home."
Trooper Richey was a 16-year veteran of the Pennsylvania State Police.
Trooper Richey is survived by his wife, Carrie; a son, Connor, 9; and a daughter, Catherine, 6.
Gov. Ed Rendell offered his condolences to the family and friends of the slain trooper and ordered all flags at commonwealth facilities be flown at half-staff.
Records show that Mr. Smith was arrested March 28, 1997, arrested after an incident involving his wife. He was charged with resisting arrest, reckless endangerment, disorderly conduct, harassment, possessing instruments of crime, simple assault and stalking with intent to cause emotional distress.
He pleaded guilty to stalking on Sept. 2, 1997, before District Justice David L. Fish, and was sentenced to three years' probation, a $500 fine and 200 hours of community service.
Mr. Smith later filed a motion for return of a firearm that had been seized during his arrest. The firearm was returned with the stipulation that it be used for hunting.