Judge orders accused drunk driver in deadly Bayshore crash to stay in jail before trial

Hillsborough County

TAMPA (WFLA) – The accused drunk driver from the deadly crash on Bayshore Boulevard will stay in jail until his trial, a judge ruled Wednesday at the Hillsborough County Courthouse.

Police arrested 31-year-old Benjamin Ehas last Thursday after they say he was behind the wheel of a pool service work truck that struck and killed 70-year-old pedestrian George Gage on the northbound sidewalk.

“There are no other alternatives to protect the community because based on the amount of people that he had a disregard for at the time on January 9th 2020 at 11:13 in the morning,” Assistant State Attorney Camaria Z. Pettis-Mackle said at the Pretrial Detention Hearing.

While Ehas faced the judge, a celebration of life was held in memory of Gage at the Hyde Park United Methodist Church. Gage was a member of a prominent Tampa Bay family that helped reshape the downtown area.  

The decision from Judge Catherine Catlin to side with the state’s request came after compelling testimony from witnesses and TPD investigators.

“I saw an explosion of the balustrades,” witness Richard Gonzmart said in court. “The vehicle struck it.”

Gonzmart testified that he saw a the Pinch A Penny Truck speed by him on Bayshore Boulevard two minutes before he called 9-1-1 to report the crash that knocked Gage into the bay.

“It was totally out of control,” he said, “I’ve not seen a car driving that fast that dangerously swerving back and forth.”

The next witness called by the state, Michael Roberts, said he heard an engine revving and looked down at Bayshore from a 20th-floor balcony.

“The white pick up truck swerved into the right lane to pass (another vehicle) and pretty much immediately lost control,” Roberts said.

Tampa Police Corporal Matthew Belmonte said at Tampa General Hospital he could smell the odor of alcohol when interviewing Ehas. He testified that he observed “red watery eyes”  and said that Ehas was “slurring his speech” after he regained consciousness following the crash.

“He identified himself as the driver at the time of the crash,” Belmonte said, “that he was alone in the vehicle.”

8 On Your Side learned in court that Ehas made other admissions to police, in addition to drinking a double shot of Fireball whiskey and smoking marijuana in the morning before the crash.

Belmonte said Ehas also told him that morning he’d taken a dose of Suboxone and that he had a prescription for the medication that treats opioid addiction.

“He says the evening before he consumed Xanax which he purchases on the street,” Belmonte added..

The public defender for Ehas spoke against keeping him behind bars before trial.

“The state is essentially asking the court to hold Mr. Ehas at pretrial detention based on the events of one tragic day,” Rocky Brancato said.

Brancato also pointed out that the driving record for Ehas “does not support that he’s ever had a DUI in the past.” He was found guilty in 2013 for driving with a suspended or revoked license.

Another revelation in court is that Pinch A Penny turned over GPS tracking records for the truck to Tampa Police.

TPD Detective Ryan Jacques testified they obtained surveillance images showing Ehas buying the Fireball Whiskey at ABC Liquor Store on Gandy Boulevard at 10:58 a.m., which is 15 minutes before the crash.

“One of the items that we recovered during our search warrant was a black ABC Liquors plastic bag,” Jacques said of the police search of the Pinch A Penny truck.

A Pinch A Penny spokesperson told 8 On Your Side that the pool service company fired Ehas the day of the deadly crash.

“Pinch A Penny of South Tampa maintains an unwavering commitment to the highest standard of safety, and have a zero-tolerance policy for the reckless behavior this individual displayed,” a statement sent to 8 On Your Side said.

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