The third day of an intensive manhunt for accused murderer Lyle "Ty" Hoffman ended unsuccessfully Wednesday after a flurry of possible sightings in the southwest metro area and at least one false lead.
Early in the day, the search shifted from the north metro to the southwestern suburbs after a man who resembled Hoffman was spotted in and around Mystic Lake Casino in Prior Lake.
He might have taken public transportation, such as a bus, to Prior Lake to launder money stolen Sunday during a bank robbery in Blaine, said John Kirkwood, Ramsey County sheriff's chief deputy.
The renewed search overhead by law enforcement helicopters and on the ground by police and sheriff's deputies came after possible spottings of Hoffman in the woods near Mystic Lake on Tuesday night, Kirkwood said.
But authorities said a Chevy TrailBlazer sought for much of Wednesday is no longer believed to be connected to Hoffman. Earlier, authorities had said that someone in it might have picked Hoffman up. "The owner of the … SUV quickly made contact with law enforcement officials upon seeing the vehicle was being sought," and it was established that there was no connection, Ramsey County Sheriff's Inspector Rob Allen said in a news release.
Hoffman, 44, is charged with fatally shooting onetime business and romantic partner Kelly Phillips, 48, on Aug. 11 at an Arden Hills gas station.
Law enforcement officials showed no outward signs of wearying of the so-far-fruitless search for Hoffman.
"He's already cut off communication with regular day-to-day life," Kirkwood said. "For lack of a better term, he's been very lucky. We've followed up on every lead, and he's just been somewhat lucky at this point."
About 7:30 a.m. Wednesday, after overnight sightings of a man in the casino who resembled Hoffman, authorities set up a perimeter in hopes of corralling him, Kirkwood said. Soon after, a witness reported seeing a man in a ball cap take off running.
"As soon as [the search] started, somebody had seen an individual who had been bedded down in the weeds get up," Kirkwood said. "He was wearing a ball cap. He was able to get into some brush, get away."
Kirkwood said it is not known how long the man was in the casino or whether he was gambling or trying to launder money from a bank robbery Sunday in Blaine that has been linked to Hoffman. Some of the bank's cash, stained with red dye, has been recovered in Blaine, Kirkwood added.
Around midday, police called the Wilds Golf Club to the northeast of the casino and ordered holes 10, 11 and 12 shut down, said course general manager Shad Gordon. Those holes are bunched close to the main north-south road leading from the core of the Twin Cities to the casino.
By roughly 11 a.m., however, the area reopened to golfers.
Assisting the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office were personnel with the Scott County Sheriff's Office and the Prior Lake Police Department. As with the searches to the northeast in Blaine, the Prior Lake hunt resulted in several traffic diversions.
Victim's friends 'frustrated'
On Monday and Tuesday, the search had been focused in the north metro, especially around the Anoka County-Blaine Airport. That flurry of activity came on the heels of a bank robbery Sunday in Blaine committed by a man whose features on video footage strongly resemble Hoffman's.
Hoffman, of Minneapolis, is wanted in connection with the shooting death of Phillips, an attorney and Boston Scientific vice president and owner of the Lush nightclub in Minneapolis, where Hoffman had worked.
Hoffman allegedly shot Phillips three times at a Holiday gas station. The two had been engaged in an increasingly tense personal and professional dispute. Hoffman has been charged in Ramsey County District Court with intentional second-degree murder.
On Wednesday, Phillips' friends and family issued a statement saying they "are understandably frustrated that Ty Hoffman has not been captured."
"We do know, however, that the net is quickly tightening around both him and anyone who may be aiding him," the statement said. "We ask the public to closely examine photos of Ty shown in the media, to be on the lookout for him and to immediately call 911 if you think you may have seen him."
Police continued to caution the public that Hoffman should be "considered armed and dangerous" and asked anyone who might see him or have information to call 911. A reward fund for Hoffman's arrest has reached $25,000.