HOPEWELL — While some questions about the alleged armed robbery in Phelps and subsequent manhunt remain unanswered, Ontario County Sheriff Kevin Henderson said his investigators have a clearer picture of what happened over that roughly 30-hour period.
During a phone interview with the Times Friday, Henderson said his officers talked to Brandon Burgess for several hours Wednesday after he was arrested. Henderson would not say if Burgess confessed to robbing the 7-Eleven near Thruway exit 42 at about 3:30 a.m. Tuesday.
“I can’t disclose a lot of what he said, but he has been cooperating with us,” Henderson said.
Burgess, 28, of Lyons, was charged with felony counts of second-degree robbery and third-degree grand larceny. He remains in the Ontario County Correctional Facility in lieu of $75,000 bail or $150,000 bond.
Burgess is accused of displaying what appeared to be an assault-style rifle at the store, and getting away with an undisclosed amount of money and cigarettes. Police later determined Burgess was wielding an Airsoft gun that looked like a rifle. While the suspect was wearing a mask, Henderson said Burgess was identified by “other measures,” including a distinguishing feature on his neck.
Police believe Burgess fled the scene in a vehicle stolen from a Phelps business. Henderson would not disclose the name of the business, but said the vehicle was abandoned on Pre-Emption Street in the town of Waterloo, just over the Seneca County line.
“We are not 100 percent sure how he got the stolen vehicle,” Henderson said.
Henderson said the vehicle was damaged in some way, but would not disclose the nature of that damage. Henderson also dispelled a report that police pulled Burgess’ pickup truck from the Erie Canal.
Henderson did say the truck — it was damaged and not drivable, according to the sheriff — was found near Lock 27 of the canal in Lyons, but was not in the water. It had spray paint on it.
After the abandoned vehicle was found in Seneca County, numerous police from local agencies converged on the area and began a manhunt for Burgess in a nearby wooded area. The search included a state police helicopter.
At one point, police believed Burgess was heading toward Lyons or was in Lyons, prompting a lockdown of several schools in Wayne County. Burgess was not found that day or night, and Henderson said another unanswered question is where Burgess spent the night.
“I think he was just floating around to the point where nobody really saw him,” Henderson said. “We are not sure where he was.”
Wednesday morning, police received a tip from an undisclosed person that Burgess was in a vehicle and trying to flee the area. Henderson said a description of the vehicle went out to every area police agency, and Seneca Falls Police Officer Jacob DeChick saw the vehicle and radioed other officers.
“I have to point out the efforts of Officer DeChick,” Henderson said. “He was able to locate the car and started the foot chase.”
Burgess was taken into custody near Route 89 following a chase that included Seneca Falls police, Ontario County sheriff’s office deputies, Geneva police, and state police. A K-9 unit was used, but Henderson dismissed a report Burgess was bitten by a dog.
“A dog was not used in the apprehension,” he said.
Henderson and District Attorney Jim Ritts are not identifying another person in the car with Burgess. Both said that person likely will not be charged with a crime.
The charge of grand larceny stems from Burgess allegedly stealing more than $3,000 in tools from a construction site in the town of Phelps early Tuesday morning.
Henderson said numerous police agencies were involved in the case from the outset, including the Seneca County sheriff’s office, Waterloo police, the Wayne County sheriff’s office, Palmyra police, and U.S. marshals.
“When the call first came in, at 3 or 3:30 in the morning, myself, my undersheriff and command staff all got involved, as well as (Seneca County) Sheriff (Tim) Luce and his staff because the vehicle was found in that county,” Henderson said. “The state police upper command staff was involved early too. As law enforcement leaders, we knew this could be a very potentially dangerous person in the community.”
Henderson said many of the police involved worked long hours during the saga; some of his officers worked around the clock, he noted. Videos Burgess posted on a social media before the robbery put authorities on high alert, Henderson said.
“We were very concerned with the mental state of this individual,” he said. “You saw the video. There were some concerning remarks ... we knew we had to find him. While we determined the gun was fake, people who may have happened upon him may not have known it wasn’t real.”
Henderson said the relatively quick capture of Burgess, along with the recent arrest in a Phelps murder, are a credit to his officers and those from nearby agencies that helped in both cases.
“I am very proud of the men and women who work in this department,” he said. “I want the public to know we are capable, have the knowledge and ability to solve these crimes and get things done. We also work cooperatively with fellow law enforcement agencies.
“We are in an area that has a great law enforcement presence. If (Wayne County) Sheriff (Barry) Virts called me right now and said they had a situation they needed help with, we would be in it.”