LOUISVILLE — A manhunt for a fugitive accused of opening fire at police officers three times in two different states continued for a sixth day Thursday, continuing a search that has closed schools and stretched across a wide swath of this region.
Two people believed by police to be the fugitive’s accomplices were arrested and taken into custody overnight, but Floyd Ray Cook of Lebanon, Ky., remains on the loose after he slipped through the fingers of the Kentucky State Police in rural Cumberland County along the Tennessee border over the weekend. After that, Cook also eluded Tennessee authorities after a third shootout Wednesday night, authorities said.
The FBI and the U.S. Marshals Fugitive Task Force have joined the hunt, which remained active in Kentucky and Tennessee on Thursday.
“The Kentucky State Police is still asking for the public to be aware and to contact law-enforcement immediately if they have any contact,” said Trooper Billy Gregory, spokesman for the Kentucky State Police post in Columbia. “We will still be looking until he is found.”
According to police, the chain of events began on June 27, when Floyd Ray Cook was arrested by the Hardin County Sheriff Department in Elizabethtown, Ky., after a traffic stop revealed that Cook possessed enough methamphetamines to charge him with first degree trafficking and tampering with physical evidence when he attempted to destroy it.
Cook was released on a $75,000 partially secured bond, but a month later, he failed to appear in Hardin County Circuit Court, so a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. Cook then floated under the radar as a wanted man until last weekend.
On Saturday afternoon in Algood, Tenn. — a small town on Interstate 40 midway between Nashville and Knoxville — Ahscari Valencia, an Algood police officer, pulled over a black Ford F-150 because a search of the plates revealed that its driver was wanted in Kentucky. As Valencia approached the truck, police said, Cook pulled a handgun and fired multiple shots, striking Officer Valencia in the abdomen, a wound that could have been fatal if not for Valencia’s bulletproof vest.
“Officer Valencia is doing fine and looking forward to getting back to regular duty,” said Beth Nelson, spokeswoman for the Putnam County Sheriff Office.
After shooting Valencia, police said, Cook escaped on back roads, heading north into Kentucky on the west side of Dale Hollow Lake, where he encountered Jeremy Baker, a state trooper, about 50 miles north of Algood.
Baker attempted to stop the black Ford F-150, but Cook fled, turned onto a dead-end side road and crashed his truck. Police said he then began shooting at Baker, who reported shots fired to the state police’s dispatch at 5:04 p.m. local time on Saturday. Baker returned fire and was not wounded, but Cook was able to flee the scene on foot, disappearing into the wooded foothills.
The Kentucky State Police Special Response Team arrived on the scene by Saturday night and resumed their search on Sunday, when a homeowner said he had seen Cook enter his house on Dulworth Road, about a mile and a half from where Cook had wrecked his truck the day before. The state police got a search warrant for the residence and went in on Sunday night, but Cook was gone.
On Monday, the Cumberland County School District cancelled classes because Kirk Biggerstaff, the superintendent, said he didn’t want kids waiting at bus stops in sparsely populated wooded areas with an armed fugitive on the loose.
“We still feel that student safety is compromised somewhat with this unique situation,” Biggerstaff told the Associated Press.
Left unsaid was an even more grim reason. Cook’s first felony conviction on his lengthy rap sheet was in 1971, when Cook was 17, for first degree rape of a victim under 12 years old. For that crime, he was sentenced to life at Eddyville State Penitentiary, but was paroled at some point before Dec. 7, 1978, when he was arrested again for second degree assault. In September 1984, he was arrested for first degree rioting in addition to an assault charge. And in January 1987, he committed a first degree robbery, for which he was sentenced to 100 years and returned to the maximum security facility at Eddyville State.
On Thursday, June 16, 1988, Cook was one of eight inmates who escaped from Eddyville in what has been called, “The Great Escape of ’88.” Cook was apprehended near the prison, as were two others, while the remaining five escapees fled to Tennessee where they executed an elderly couple as part of their escape.
The escape added 20 years to Cook’s 100-year sentence, but he was paroled on Aug. 27, 2009. His recent meth charge in Hardin County would undoubtedly have resulted in a return to prison, likely for the rest of his life.
Despite his lengthy criminal career, some still find a way to sympathize with Cook — namely his sister, Ollie Mae Wicker.
She and Cook were separated as young children after they witnessed their mother’s murder in December 1960 at the hands of their stepfather; their father had gone blind and committed suicide a few years before. Ollie Mae was adopted and moved to western Kentucky, leaving Floyd in the care of his grandmother. By the age of 12, Floyd Cook was basically on his own. The two siblings reconnected when they were in their 20s, when Cook was serving his first sentence at Eddyville State Penitentiary, where Ollie Mae’s adoptive father, James Howard Collier, worked as the deputy warden for treatment.
“There is a very different side to him, and that is the Floyd that really tried to make it out here in the world,” Ollie Mae said.
After his release from prison in 2009, he visited his sister’s house daily, where she fed him along with the rest of the family. He began to attend their church and he was baptized. But then last year, Cook met a woman who led him away from his sister and the church, she said.
“He made some really bad decisions,” Ollie Mae said.
On Wednesday morning, the Kentucky State Police said they were also searching for another man, 50-year-old Troy E. Wayne, who is on probation in Kentucky for an unknown offense committed in a different state. Wayne’s current address was listed in Marion County, Ky., but no one in that tight-knit community seemed to know him. State and federal police agencies searched Marion County early Wednesday morning, with no results. Police won’t comment as to what the connection is between Wayne and Cook.
The trail became hot again Wednesday night in White House, Tenn., just north of Nashville. At about 8 p.m. local time, authorities tried to stop a vehicle that they say rammed police cars, and someone from the car shot at police officers before the people in the vehicle escaped on foot. The U.S. Marshals said in a statement that the driver of the car nearly hit one of its officers, who was on foot at the time. That same officer fired one shot, but nobody was hit, the marshals said.
After a massive police presence arrived in the area, police say they apprehended Cook’s associate, Troy Wayne, and a female associate, Katie McCarty. Throughout the night, helicopters and SWAT teams scoured the rural Tennessee neighborhood looking for Cook as residents fretted about the situation on social media.
As of daybreak Thursday, Floyd Cook was still nowhere to be found. State authorities in Kentucky and Tennessee, as well as the U.S. Marshals Service remain on the lookout for any clues of Cook’s whereabouts, and authorities say he is considered armed and dangerous. Schools in Cumberland County re-opened on Thursday, after being closed for three days, as the police no longer consider Cumberland County to be an active crime scene.
Cook is facing first degree attempted murder charges in Kentucky and Tennessee as a result of the shootings at police in both states, in addition to the meth charge and parole violation.
“My prayers now are that he harm no one and that he be given a last chance to surrender to the authorities. A calm voice could talk him down,” his sister said. “My heart is broken because I have lost him over and over again, but I will always love him.”
This story has been updated with the statement released by the U.S. Marshals.