Tensas escapee behind bars in Maine until Jindal issues warrant

Published 12:04 am Wednesday, August 8, 2012

WATERPROOF — The Tensas Parish inmate who drove a stolen unmarked police car 1,800 miles before being arrested will remain behind bars in Maine, while a governor’s warrant is issued to return him back to Louisiana to face trial on his charges.

Benjamin Gottke, 43, appeared in Houlton Superior Court for an extradition hearing Tuesday when a judge ordered Gottke be held without bail until Sept. 4 or until a governor’s warrant is issued for his arrest, Aroostook County Assistant District Attorney Kurt Kafferlin said.

Kafferlin said Tensas Parish officials must get Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal to request the governor’s warrant from Maine Gov. Paul LePage.

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“Once it gets to Maine it’s a relatively quick process, but the process is initiated by Louisiana,” Kafferlin said. “Different states do it at different speeds, and it really just depends on the state.”

If the governor’s warrant hasn’t been issued by Sept. 4, Kafferlin said Gottke can be detained an additional 60 days to allow the process to continue.

Tensas Parish Sheriff Rickey Jones said he has been in contact with the Tensas Parish District Attorney’s Office about getting the ball rolling on the governor’s warrant.

“I’m staying in contact with our assistant district attorney who is in contact with the district attorney’s office in Maine,” Jones said. “I’m just ready to get some closure to this, get him back and let the judicial process run its course.”

And after crunching the numbers on what it would cost his department to retrieve the 2002 Ford Crown Victoria that Gottke stole and drove to Maine, Jones said he decided to donate the old cruiser to the Houlton Police Department.

“It was an old car with a lot of miles on it,” Jones said. “Realistically, it wasn’t worth paying a couple of guys to go all the way up there, spend the night and the gas millage to come back.

“It just wasn’t worth it.”

Houlton Police Chief Butch Asselin said the town council accepted the vehicle donation and the crusier will replace a 2005 Chevy Impala utilized by a code enforcement officer.

“It needs some work, but we’d rather invest in this vehicle than the one we had before,” Asselin said. “Plus, we figured most of the miles on the car were highway miles.”

Gottke was working as a trusty in the Tensas Parish Sheriff’s Office kitchen on July 12, when he managed to acquire keys to the police car and escaped from the jail.

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, July 14.

Gottke was heading North on I-95 toward Canada, but turned around in a “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.

After fleeing authorities at the entry port, U.S. Border Patrol agents located the vehicle an hour later abandoned at a local gas station.

Houlton Police Department officers found Gottke shortly after in a downtown street and had to Taze him twice before making an arrest.

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