Central New York Mourns After Motorist Deliberately Runs Over State Trooper

05.30.14 | Sarah Harnisch

The motorist who struck and killed a trooper Thursday during a routine traffic stop on Interstate 81 did so intentionally, state police said.

Almond Upton, 60, of Melrose, Fla., was charged with first-degree murder in the death of Trooper Christopher G. Skinner, 42, and arraigned in Town of Chenango Court on Thursday night.

“I’m not sure what his mental state was at the time of the accident,” State Police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico said of Upton. “He did make admissions that he saw the trooper and intentionally struck him.”

Skinner, of Binghamton, had pulled over a black BMW for suspected speeding just before noon on I-81 — about a mile north of Exit 6 between Chenango Bridge and Castle Creek. Police said he was out of his vehicle when he was struck by a white Toyota Tacoma driven by Upton.

Skinner was killed instantly, police said.

Upton traveled from the passing to the driving lane to hit Skinner and the car he had stopped, police said. The driver of the BMW was uninjured.

Before he came upon the traffic stop, police said, Upton had sideswiped another two vehicles while speeding, causing minor injuries. Police did not say how fast he was going.

After striking Skinner, Upton’s vehicle continued a short distance northbound on I-81 before stopping off the road. Upton then fled on foot, police said. After a brief search, he was tracked down by police dogs a few hundred yards into a heavily wooded area off I-81, where was he was found naked. He was taken into custody around 1 p.m.

D’Amico said nearly 100 officers took part in the manhunt. Upton told police he was en route to Connecticut to visit his mother.

Police said Thursday it did not appear Upton was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

“We’ll be speaking to anyone who had any connection to Upton and try to track his movements prior to the accident and try to make some sense of this, honestly,” D’Amico said.

He had been convicted of driving under the influence in 2008 in Florida. In that incident, Upton was fined $1,000 and sentenced to 12 months probation after pleading no contest to the DUI charge in Clay County, Florida. According to Clay County Clerk of the Circuit Court records, Upton’s driver’s license was revoked for six months.

Skinner was a 13-year veteran of the state police and served in Troops C, E and G. He is survived by his mother, Sharyn; brother, Shawn; fiancée, Surrena; and two children, 15-year old Kyle and 12-year-old Erin.

Troop C Commander Major Donald Faughnan said Skinner was a model state trooper.

“He was a dedicated worker ... and took his job very seriously,” Faughnan said. “He’s sorely going to be missed.”

Between 2004 and 2013, 136 law enforcement deaths nationwide involved officers being struck by a vehicle, according to data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which was last updated on April 14. By comparison, 548 law enforcement officers were shot to death in the line of duty during the same time period, according to the Memorial Fund data.

On Dec. 16, 2013, New York State Trooper David Cunniff’s patrol car was struck by a tractor-trailer on the Thruway in the city of Amsterdam, Montgomery County.

In that incident, Cunniff’s patrol car was pulled over near exit 27 in Amsterdam, behind another vehicle he had stopped. A tractor-trailer drove off the road for an unknown reason and struck the two vehicles at the traffic stop.

Cunniff was in his patrol car at the time with emergency lights activated. The impact forced Cunniff’s car off the right shoulder, partially ejecting him from the vehicle.

Cunniff was airlifted to Albany Medical Center, where he died from his injuries on Dec. 17.

In 2008, Port Dickinson police officer Aldo Rossi was struck by a drunk driver after leaving his car to talk with a motorist and later died from his injuries. A tree had fallen across Route 7 in the village and Rossi was waiting for a state Department of Transportation crew to remove it.

When another vehicle pulled onto the shoulder, Rossi exited his car to talk with the driver. Another vehicle struck the parked car before hitting Rossi.

Patrick Fitzgerald, the driver of the second car, was found to have a blood-alcohol level of more than four times the legal limit. He was sentenced to five years in prison and three years of post-release supervision for criminally negligent homicide in January 2010.