From Waterproof to Maine, but how? Escaped inmate fled authorities

Published 12:04 am Tuesday, July 17, 2012

WATERPROOF — Tensas Parish Sheriff Rickey Jones isn’t quite certain how an escaped inmate managed to steal and drive an unmarked police car 1,800 miles across the country, but he knows it won’t happen again.

Benjamin Gottke, 43, was working as a trusty in the sheriff’s office kitchen last week, when he managed to acquire keys to a backup unmarked police car and escaped.

Benjamin Gottke

Gottke was serving time for simple burglary and only had about nine months left on his sentence.

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Jones said Gottke was a class A trusty, which allowed him to go back and forth between the Tensas Parish Detention Center and the jail — often working in the kitchen or washing cars.

Jones said it’s likely that Gottke got the key to the police car from a storage shed at the jail, where keys to certain vehicles are kept.

“This situation is going to make me rethink a lot of things with our trusty program and where we keep certain things,” Jones said. “The jailer that was working that night said (Gottke) was acting normal, so we’re not sure what motivated him yet.”

From Waterproof, La., Gottke managed to drive the police car 1,800 miles in two days to Houlton, Maine, until arriving at the Houlton port of entry at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

Gottke was heading North on I-95 toward Canada, but turned around in ‘no-man’s-land’ between the two ports. Gottke then wound up in the lane coming back into the United States, and he was stalled after U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers asked for identification.

“The suspect indicated he did not have any (identification) and an officer then requested he turn off the vehicle’s engine and provide a vehicle registration form,” spokesperson Michelle Benson-Fuller said. “At that time, the suspect pressed the accelerator and fled the port of entry.”

U.S. Border Patrol agents located the vehicle an hour later abandoned at a local gas station.

“When we had seized the vehicle, we turned it over the police department,” Benson-Fuller said.

Houlton Police Department Lieutenant Dan Pelletier said police reached out to local media with a photo of Gottke and asked anyone to call with information.

Several calls from the public shortly after led HPD officers to Park Street near downtown Houlton where they found Gottke wielding a large stick about the size of a baseball bat.

“The officer instructed him to put the stick down and get on the ground,” Pelletier said. “The suspect responded, ‘You’re going to have to shoot me, because I’m not going to put it down.’

“Our officer had to deploy his Taser twice before arresting the suspect.”

Gottke is facing charges in Maine as a fugitive from justice and resisting arrest and charges in Louisiana of simple escape and theft of a vehicle.

Gottke is currently at the Aroostook County Jail in Maine and is expected to be arraigned and sign extradition papers to be sent back to Louisiana in the following weeks.

Jones said he is thankful for all the agencies that worked together to apprehend Gottke, and very thankful for the Houlton residents who responded to the media reports — even though it disrupted an evening baseball game.

“The officers in Houlton told me that they put the alert out during a Boston Red Sox game,” Jones said. “They said that was probably the main reason they got so many calls, because it was interrupting the game.

“I commend all the agencies, and I’m very appreciative of their hard work”

Jones said he expects Gottke to be back at Tensas Parish Detention Center within two weeks.