Trooper Baker recovering at hospital

The State Troopers PBA is pleased to share the news that Trooper Donald Baker Jr. continues to progress in his recovery at Hamot Medical Center in Erie, Pa. Yesterday, Trooper Baker took his first walk down a hospital hallway since he was first admitted to the hospital on Aug. 31 after being shot during the manhunt for Ralph Phillips, most likely by Phillips. Trooper Baker’s wife, Tracy, was interviewed by a reporter from The Buffalo News and she shared good news about her husband’s recovery. The newspaper article is shown below.

News Staff Reporter

ERIE, Pa. – Tracy R. Baker describes herself as an emotional person, someone who "can cry at the drop of a hat."

She has been crying less lately, thanks to the recent strong recovery made by her husband, New York State Trooper Donald H. Baker Jr., who was shot and critically wounded Aug. 31 during the manhunt for Ralph "Bucky" Phillips.

"The last week, we’ve seen a big improvement, and the last few days have been great," a smiling Tracy Baker said during an interview Monday at the Hamot Medical Center in Erie. "This is a really good time for Don. He’s starting to realize how many people have been pulling for him and caring for him."

In the first days after the ambush, some of his fellow troopers wondered whether the comatose Baker, 38, would survive. But in recent days, his wife said, he has become stronger, more alert and talkative.

"He does therapy in his bed, exercises for his arms and his legs. He can get out of bed and sit in a chair," Tracy Baker said.

Tuesday, he walked down the hall for the first time – another big step forward in his recovery.

Tracy Baker now believes that her husband will make a full recovery and eventually will return to work with the State Police.

"He definitely plans to do that," she said. "Anybody who knows Don, . . . anyone who knows how determined Don is, would never count him out."

Hospital officials now list Baker in serious but stable condition. His wife said doctors told her he will have to stay in the hospital at least three more weeks, followed by extensive physical therapy after his release.

In some ways, Baker has become the forgotten man of the saga involving Phillips’ escape from a jail in Alden, his criminal escapades while on the loose and his surrender in Pennsylvania on Sept. 8.

Authorities said Baker and his partner in the Mobile Response Team, Trooper Joseph A. Longobardo, were on a stakeout near the home of a Phillips friend when someone with a high-powered rife began shooting at them.

Longobardo, struck in a major artery in his leg, died a few days later. Baker, shot in the back, has been fighting for his life ever since. Phillips reportedly has told police he thought the two troopers were bounty hunters and shot them.

At times, the story of Baker’s quiet struggle has been lost in all the grief over Longobardo’s death and the bizarre tales of Phillips on the run.

But his wife said Baker now feels like anything but a forgotten man, because of all the support he has received from fellow troopers and average citizens, from Buffalo to his hometown of Clifton Park, near Albany.

"The treatment he has received at this hospital has been so compassionate and so professional, I can’t say enough," Tracy Baker said. "I believe the surgeons here saved Don’s life. The nurses have been wonderful. People in Erie have been very nice to us."

Several organizations have put on fundraisers for the family. Cards and letters have been pouring in from Buffalo and throughout the state.

"Don reads them and smiles," Tracy Baker said. "He becomes overwhelmed."

The Bakers, who met in junior high school in Clifton Park, have been married 15 years. They have no children. Tracy Baker works for an investment planning company in Albany.

She has been by her husband’s side since the night of the shooting, when State Police picked her up at her home and flew her to Erie.

"Tracy is a rock, a source of strength to everyone around her," said the Rev. John J. Detisch, a Catholic priest from Erie who has visited Baker several times.

Baker asked Detisch to pass along a brief message to Buffalo News readers who have been following his story: "Tell them thank you so much for all the prayers and support." Tracy Baker said her husband is a certified emergency medical technician and has training as a nurse. He had just completed four years of nursing school at Russell Sage College when he joined the State Police.

"Since he was a kid, he wanted to be a policeman, and only with the New York State Police," she said. "That’s all he wanted."

State Police call Phillips their prime suspect in the attack, but so far, he has not been charged.

Tracy Baker said she hasn’t given much thought to Phillips since the shootings, and in fact, she refuses to speak Phillips’ name.

"I don’t waste my energy thinking of him," she said. "I don’t care enough about him to even think about him. I’ll leave all that to the justice system."

Tracy Baker said she and her family are grateful to troopers and State Police commanders, members of the State Police Employee Assistance Program, and also to the State Troopers Police Benevolent Association for the support they have provided over the past month.