SCOTT COUNTY — Less than three months after a Charlestown police officer was killed in pursuit of a suspect, that man has been sentenced to decades in prison.
Benjamin Eads, 35, was sentenced Friday to a total of 30 years with four concurrent sentences for his role in the death of Charlestown Sgt. Ben Bertram, who died Dec. 12 after his unmarked police car struck a tree while pursuing Eads, who was driving a stolen car. The pursuit had begun in Clark County and ended in Scott County, where charges were later filed.
Eads pleaded guilty last month to a level 2 felony for resisting arrest causing death, level 6 felonies for auto theft and escape and a class A misdemeanor for driving with a suspended license. As part of a plea agreement, an enhancement for being an habitual offender was dropped, and the Clark County Prosecutor's Office agreed not to file charges in the same case. The habitual offender enhancement could have added up to 20 years on a sentence.
"This has been an emotional journey," Charlestown Police Chief Keith McDonald said following the sentencing hearing in Scott County Circuit Court.
"It's nice to get a quick resolution and not put the family through a trial, and the rest of my staff. We're ready to move on and continue to memorialize Sgt. Bertram and the legacy that he left behind."
In court, Eads was quiet and kept his head down as Bertram's sister, the only person to testify, addressed him. She had been asleep when her husband woke her to tell her Bertram had been in an accident; she later had to be the one to tell their parents.
"I kept saying 'how am I going to do this,' " she said. "I had to deliver news that ruined our lives that night."
She said Bertram was her best friend in a close family.
"He (Eads) has left a gaping hole in our hearts," she said. "I have never cried so much.
"Ben was trying to stop you from hurting others; he was trying to save you from yourself."
In a news conference with McDonald, Scott County Prosecutor Chris Owens and Charlestown Mayor Bob Hall, the city leaders commended the work of the Indiana State Police and assisting agencies for bringing the case to a close swiftly. Eads was caught the same night of the wreck, and admitted to detectives he had stolen a car and that he was aware he was being pursued by an officer and that both their cars left the roadway.
"This should send a message to everyone," Owens said. "Split-second decisions impact lives forever. Because of the actions on this December night by Mr. Eads, two families have been devastated.
"I want to assure the people of Southern Indiana that Benjamin Eads will not be free for a long time and he cannot hurt anyone else in this area."
Owens said he had been in contact with Bertram's family and the department throughout the process, and that the plea agreement had their blessing.
"I hope the defendant has time to reset his life and think about the consequences that he caused," McDonald said. "He'll have a second chance. Unfortunately, Sgt. Bertram, doesn't have that reset button. Sgt. Bertram got a life sentence for upholding the laws of our state."
McDonald said those close to Bertram — his family, the police department — have been overwhelmed at the show of support for the fallen officer.
When he was brought back to Charlestown after his autopsy Dec. 13 by a line of police cars from every surrounding department, hundreds more community members gathered along the city's main streets to show their respect. Law enforcement from across the country attended his funeral.
"I cannot express to you how much it means to us," McDonald said. "The thousands of people who mourned with us... the community support has been tremendous."