A New Jersey State Police helicopter was called in Wednesday evening (Sept. 26) to help Lawrence Township police search a wooded area behind Lawrence Shopping Center for a man who cut his own throat and ran off after allegedly assaulting his mother in her home on President Avenue, according to township police Lt. Charles Edgar.
The suspect, 44-year-old Thomas Fell, was located in the woods nearly three hours after the manhunt began and taken into custody without incident, Edgar said, noting that Fell’s self-inflicted neck wound was found to be superficial.
Fell, who early Thursday morning was undergoing a medical evaluation and receiving treatment at a Trenton hospital for his neck laceration, was being held in connection with domestic violence-related charges, Edgar said, adding that the investigation was continuing.
It was about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday when township police were called to the house on President Avenue, off Brunswick Pike (Business Route 1) just south of Lawrence Shopping Center, after Fell and his mother had a dispute, Edgar said. He said the argument involved the mother not wanting her son to drive because she believed he was “intoxicated.”
At some point during the dispute, Edgar said, Fell allegedly pushed his mother and used some kind of knife to cut his neck. He then fled into the wooded area behind his mother’s house.
Township police officers quickly set up a perimeter in an effort to contain Fell in the wooded area. Officers were positioned on President Avenue, Lake Drive, Bunker Hill Avenue, Graf Avenue, along Princeton Pike and along the Shabakunk Creek at the rear of the shopping center.
Edgar said police made contact with Fell via his cell phone and tried to convince him to surrender, but Fell abruptly ended the conversation after initially speaking to an officer.
Not knowing what Fell’s mental state was or if he still had the knife, police were cautious not to rush blindly into the woods looking for him. Instead, Edgar said, township police requested assistance from the state police’s aviation unit to scan the woods from above using their helicopter’s thermal detection equipment and spotlight.
Handheld thermal imaging cameras were similarly used on the ground by officers in an effort to detect the heat being given off by Fell’s body in the darkness. Fire engines from Slackwood Volunteer Fire Co. helped light up the woods at the rear of the shopping center and along Graf Avenue. And one of the township’s police dogs and a K-9 unit from the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department were also called out to track Fell’s scent.
While they suspected that Fell’s neck wound was superficial, police did not know for certain that it was not life-threatening until they located him – unarmed – about 11:20 p.m. and escorted him out of the woods.
So, police were particularly concerned for Fell’s safety throughout the incident, Edgar said, explaining that the search was more akin to looking for a “crisis patient."
“At no point did we feel that the general public was in danger,” he said.