The Virginia trucker who led police on a multi-county police chase last month and shot at least 29 times at officers was an "anti-police extremist" set on a path of destruction, Livingston County Sheriff Thomas Dougherty revealed Tuesday.
Deputies shot and killed Joshua Blessed, 58, of Harrisonburg, Virginia, on May 28 after his tractor-trailer came to rest in front of a Geneseo gas station.
Seven deputies — two from Genesee County and five from Livingston County — fired 129 shots at Blessed, who was struck three times in his hip and one in his head. None of the wounds were self-inflicted. Blessed's truck was struck by at least 91 bullets.
Blessed, who also went by the name Sergei Jourev, traveled to New York on behalf of a Yurman Express LLC., a freight-transport company based in Virginia, to retrieve dairy products from Batavia, Dougherty said.
Blessed fled police and fired at least 29 shots from his Glock 9mm handgun at officers attempting to stop his tractor-trailer after an initial traffic stop in LeRoy, Genesee County.
He said police do not yet know what led to such an extreme encounter with police. But Dougherty believed the traffic stop triggered Blessed's reaction. The trailer of Blessed's truck was empty, Dougherty said.
Federal authorities searched two Virginia properties connected to Blessed, including his rental home. FBI agents recovered three pipe bombs and $18,000 cash from his vehicle. At the property Blessed rented, agents found 11 more improvised explosive devices, more firearms, and $130,000 cash.
Dougherty said Blessed had numerous anti-police and extreme views shared on his social media accounts.
"He was building toward something, but I haven't seen any blueprint," Dougherty said. "...This man was a very real threat to a lot of people."
Dougherty said Blessed’s actions appear unrelated to other events happening right now in the United States, including the murder of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter rallies.
"We really believe Blessed was on his path to Batavia and what prompted this and triggered Blessed this day was the proactive traffic stop by the LeRoy Police Department," Dougherty said.
Dougherty said Blessed was "some sort of militia extremist. He did have anti-police philosophies. I think if you look at the social media for Blessed, we started working in conjunction with the FBI early on that evening. They reached out to us."
Agents from the Richmond FBI field office executed multiple search warrants on the vehicle Blessed drove to work before leaving for New York in his tractor-trailer. Agents found three pipe bombs, an AK-47 assault rifle, magazines for the Glock 9mm handgun, and $18,000 in cash.
On May 29 after receiving a tip from a property owner, agents executed a search warrant at the home where Blessed had been renting a room for three years. Authorities recovered 11 pipe bombs, another AK-47, this one with a thermal scope, two high-caliber rifles, thousands of dollars worth of ammunition, several how-to manuals for building bombs and avoid law enforcement detection, and $130,000 in cash.
Dougherty believes Blessed had a plan for an attack in the future, but it didn’t appear Blessed intended to pull off any attack during this encounter. The sheriff made this determination after examining all the guns, ammunition, and cash Blessed left behind in Virginia.
"Our partnership most likely prevented something much larger in the future," Dougherty said.
He continued, "These situations are not easy on police officers, not easy on the families. For me as a sheriff, this couldn’t have gone any better, other than if he had just stopped and turned himself in. That could’ve been the only better result."
The incident started just after 8:35 p.m. May 28 in LeRoy, when a police officer stopped the driver for speeding on West Main Street. LeRoy Village Police Chief Chris Hayward said that the driver refused to follow the officer's directions and drove away while an officer was still on the truck, forcing the officer to jump off.
According to Dougherty, the driver made multiple U-turns during the pursuit, tried to run down numerous police cars and repeatedly fired shots at police.
"He was a very good driver, driving that truck like a go-cart," Dougherty said.
The pursuit ended at 9:52 p.m. near the Applebee's restaurant on Route 20A in Geneseo, when officers fired multiple shots at the driver, Dougherty said. Blessed was pronounced dead at the scene, he said.
While it is still under investigation, Dougherty said he wouldn't release the names of the deputies who shot at Blessed.
No police officers or civilians were injured during the incident, but Dougherty said there were several close calls. Blessed rammed at least four police cars, including two cars from the LeRoy Police Department.
Four police cars were also struck with gunfire, including one Livingston County Sheriff's Office investigator's car that was hit with nine bullets. One bullet went through the front windshield of a Genesee County Sheriff's Office patrol car and missed a deputy's head by inches, Dougherty said.
"He was purposely trying to hurt cops tonight and ultimately, this is how it ended," Dougherty said at a late-night news briefing at the scene.
Police recovered one handgun from Blessed in the cab of the truck.