While fleeing state troopers, a man suspected of armed robbery crossed the median of Interstate 87 and died in a head-on collision Sunday.
The death of Desmond J. Clark, 28, of Plattsburgh, was ruled a suicide by the Essex County coroner, based on police and witness accounts that Clark hit the pickup truck intentionally.
The collision took place in the town of Schroon. New York State Police provided more information during a news conference at the Troop B headquarters in Ray Brook on Monday afternoon.
Troopers said they saw a 2008 Pontiac G6, driven by Clark, travelling southbound on the Adirondack Northway portion of I-87 near North Hudson at 11:07 a.m. Sunday. They pursued him because they suspected he committed an armed robbery at the Keeseville Sunoco gas station off Exit 34 at 11:30 p.m. Saturday.
“A lone gunman carrying a long rifle, or a similar type of weapon, entered the establishment, demanding money,” said Capt. Robert LaFountain, head of the State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation.
The robber fled the scene with an amount of money police would not disclose. State Police and the Clinton County Sheriff’s Department later responded to the scene. Nobody was hurt, LaFountain said.
“Based on the physical descriptors in coordination with the sheriff’s department and the Plattsburgh City Police Department, Clark was quickly identified as a potential suspect in the robbery,” LaFountain said. The Pontiac belonged to Clark, LaFountain confirmed.
LaFountain wouldn’t comment on whether Clark’s Pontiac was at the scene of the crime at the Sunoco. State Police also wouldn’t confirm if the gun from the robbery was found in Clark’s car after the crash.
Workers at the Sunoco declined to comment Monday.
Chase, collision, fireball
When police tried to stop Clark the next day, he refused to pull over and continued south on I-87.
Police said it was around mile marker 85 — which is north of Exit 27 at Schroon Lake — that Clark’s car left the southbound lane, crossed the median, went airborne after hitting an embankment and started driving south in the northbound lane. No troopers pursued him into the opposite lane, said Capt. Patrick Ryan, the troopers’ Zone 3 Commander. LaFountain said Clark swerved around a few smaller vehicles before eventually hitting a white 2011 GMC Sierra pickup truck head-on.
“From witness accounts, it appears as though he intentionally drove head-on into the truck,” LaFountain said. “There was also a fireball that was quickly extinguished.”
Injuries and death
The truck’s driver, Curtis E. Smith, 52, and front-seat passenger Linda M. Hutti, 57, both of Peru, were transported to Glens Falls Hospital, he with back and leg injuries and she with a back injury. Both were later transferred to Albany Medical Center for further treatment. LaFountain said they are in stable condition. Representatives of Albany Medical Center said they could provide no information on Smith, and Hutti’s condition was listed as fair.
Essex County Coroner Frank Whitelaw said there were also three Pomeranian dogs in cages in the back seat of the truck. They were unharmed, he said.
Whitelaw pronounced Clark dead at the scene at 12:45 p.m. and authorized removal of the body to Champlain Valley Physicians Hospital in Plattsburgh for an autopsy, which was completed Monday. Whitelaw said Clark died of multiple blunt-force traumas and ruled the manner of death as suicide.
The Northway’s northbound lanes were closed down for more than eight hours.
“We worked as quickly as we could and got the Northway northbound closed and traffic rerouted onto Route 9,” Ryan said. “Then it took a while, but we were able to back the trucks up and get the passenger cars out of there. The Northway was closed for several hours, though, for the ongoing investigation and the forensic investigation.”
Ryan added that the Northway’s northbound lanes were back to regular traffic at around 8 p.m. Sunday.
Both wrecked cars are at the State Police station in Ray Brook. The truck’s driver side got hit the worst. The hood was mangled and crushed in. The steering wheel airbag was deployed and deflated. Blood stained the door, which had been ripped off.
The Pontiac, which is still going through forensic testing, looked worse. Its engine had completely detached from the body, and the windshield shattered and bent in different directions.
State Police are still investigating Clark’s background and the events of the robbery and crash.