In his first lengthy interview with the media, Trooper Donald Baker Jr. told the Times Union newspaper of Albany that he wants to return to work with the State Police when he is fully recovered. The State Troopers PBA continues to support Trooper Baker and his family during his recovery, and we wish them the best. The article from the Times Union is shown below.
By DENNIS YUSKO, Staff writer
First published: Thursday, November 30, 2006
HALFMOON– State Trooper Donald Baker Jr. sat on his leather couch Wednesday, 45 pounds lighter than he was in August, his thinned body still unable to digest any solid foods.
It was 2 p.m., and on the other side of New York, Ralph "Bucky" Phillips was in court admitting to shooting Baker in the abdomen and killing his friend and fellow state trooper Joseph Longobardo.
Baker watched television news, waiting for word of Phillips’ guilty pleas with his wife, Tracy, and Sgt. Robert Buell, a fellow member of the elite State Police Mobile Response Team. Though he hasn’t eaten since the Aug. 31 shooting, Baker wasn’t feeling angry or vengeful. "I don’t have any feelings, any feelings at all," Baker said of the man who nearly killed him. "I’m not going to go down Ralph Phillips’ road."
Perhaps he’ll comment more about Phillips when he is sentenced, he said. His wishes are to return to road patrol out of the Clifton Park barracks by next fall, and to remain on the Mobile Response Team.
"Will I ever be 100 percent? Probably not, but I should be able to go back to police work," Baker said.
Tracy, the more outspoken of the two, reacted strongly to Phillips’ guilty pleas, and evoked Longobardo’s wife, who lives in Greenfield.
"I think he is guilty," she said. "It’s for the courts to decide, but the hardest thing the last few months has been seeing my husband suffer, and you want justice. It’s hard talking to Terri Longobardo and knowing her husband is not here, and he was murdered by an evil person."
Three months after nearly dying at the hands of one of New York’s most notorious cop-killers, Baker prefers not to speak about the incident and continues working toward what he hopes will be a nearly full recovery. But it’s not easy.
Phillips fired a single bullet through the right side of Baker’s back that exited his left side and tore up several vital organs. He underwent at least a half dozen surgeries at Hamot Medical Center in Erie, Pa., while in an induced coma, and doesn’t even remember five weeks of his recovery.
Baker’s stomach is stapled shut and he receives nutrition through a feeding tube. Another tube drains waste from his system.
"You get used to it," Baker said. "It’s not that bad."
Baker returned from Albany Medical Center to his suburban Halfmoon home on Nov. 20. After refusing numerous media requests to tell his story, he and Tracy decided to share parts of their story with Times Union. They declined a photo request.
Baker remembers getting shot, but he did not want to talk about it or the circumstances around it.
"It’s hard," Baker recalled. "Obviously, you think about your family and stuff."
He wears a black bracelet on his wrist in honor of Longobardo, whom he befriended in June, when Longobardo joined the Mobile Response Team.
"It’s tough when you lose any police officer, and Joe was a (Mobile Response) team member, so it hit all of us hard," Baker said.
For many days in September, it wasn’t clear if Baker would survive, Tracy said.
"He pretty much was as close to death as you can be," she said.
But Baker is bouncing back, however slowly. He drinks a lot of Gatorade, and expects to start eating food again within a few months.
Returning to health "probably wasn’t as bad as I would expect it to be," he said. Baker figures he has seven to eight months of therapy ahead, then another surgery.
Baker wore pajama pants, puffy socks and a black T-shirt during a one-hour interview Wednesday.
"Donnie," as friends and family call him, doesn’t consider himself special and maintained a modest stance.
"I don’t put myself in any categories," Baker, who at age 38 maintains a boyish grin. "I don’t feel any different, like I stand out. We all do the job."
The couple married in 1991. Tracy returned to her job at a financial planning firm for the first time on Monday. Baker is receiving workers’ compensation payments while he’s injured.
He went out of his way to thank those who reached out to the family since the shooting. He said he was unaware of allegations by the State Police’s union that top police brass botched the six-month manhunt for Phillips.
"Everybody’s been really supportive," Tracy said.
Baker, a former Army medic, cannot drive or run, but can get around the house. As he focuses on getting healthy, he is reading, watching TV and undergoing physical therapy.
Baker said he wanted to be a state trooper since he attended high school at Shenendehowa.
"I just got lucky, I guess," he said.