Local News

Authorities: Man kills woman, deputy, dies in shootout

Posted April 8, 2009 5:30 a.m. EDT
Updated April 8, 2009 11:30 p.m. EDT

— A man killed his girlfriend and later started a shootout in the woods with Lenoir County sheriff's deputies that killed a lawman and left the gunman dead, authorities said Wednesday.

Craven County sheriff's Capt. Joe Heckman said suspect Clarence Douglas Phillips, 43, died at a Lenoir Memorial Hospital from gunshot wounds sustained during the shootout. He said deputies found Phillips' girlfriend, 49-year-old Cynthia Tillett Knighten, dead in her Craven County home.

Authorities identified the slain officer as Lenoir County Sheriff's Deputy Allen Pearson. Deputy Ryan Dawson was also shot near his neck.

Before authorities found Knighten in her home, Lenoir County 911 received a call at 9:56 p.m. Tuesday from Isaac Grady. He told dispatch officials that a man had driven a vehicle into a wooded area off Tick Bite Road, near Grifton, and was firing a gun.

"He shot about five times” Grady said.

Authorities said deputies arrived at the scene and repeatedly asked Phillips to surrender. A state Highway Patrol helicopter helped identify Phillips' location in the woods and then officers began approaching him.

"I was freaking out; I didn't know what was going on,” Grady said.

As officers entered the woods, Phillips began firing at them, Lenoir County Sheriff Billy Smith said. Deputies returned fire. Phillips and Pearson died of gunshot wounds. Dawson remained in serious condition Wednesday evening at Pitt Memorial Hospital.

Craven County authorities have named Phillips as the suspect in the death of his live-in girlfriend, Cynthia Tillett Knighten, 49, in New Bern.

Lenoir investigators traced the car Phillips was driving to Knighten and had Craven authorities go to her residence to investigate. That was when Knighten's body was discovered.

Heckman said Phillips had a history of domestic issues and that deputies believe Phillips shot Knighten, but it wasn't clear.

Grady said his wife and daughter were gone at the time of the shootout. He said one bullet went into his house where his family usually sleeps.

"It was right at the level where if they were laying on the bed, it would have went right through them,” Grady said.

The State Bureau of Investigation is investigating the shooting, which is routine in officer-involved shootings.

"It is a very sad day for the sheriff's office," Maj. Christopher Hill, chief of administration for the Lenoir County Sheriff's Office, said in a news release. "The Lenoir County Sheriff's Office is grieving the loss of Pearson and praying for the recovery of Dawson."

Records with the Department of Corrections show Phillips has a lengthy criminal history, including a 2004 conviction for attempted assault with a deadly weapon with the intent to kill and communicating threats. Records show he was convicted of assaulting a female in 1999. He also had a number of convictions in the 1980s, including assault with a deadly weapon and resisting an officer.