CHARLESTOWN, IN (WAVE) - A small community in southern Indiana is still reeling Thursday after the loss of one of their own.
Sergeant Benton Bertram was killed when his car hit a tree while pursuing a suspect who allegedly was driving a stolen car, taking police on a high-speed chase through Clark and Scott County that began just before 10:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Police arrested Benjamin Eads, 35, who was booked into the Scott County Jail.
The air seems to hang heavy outside the Charlestown Police Department. In a small department, everyone knew Ben, making Bertram’s sudden death so crushing.
"This one stings. This one's going to be tough," said Chief Keith McDonald of the Charlestown Police.
The day brings with it a sense of disbelief for many inside the police department and around the Charlestown community. McDonald said Bertram was well-respected, good at his job as a K9 handler and fun to be around.
"He was down to earth, he was a jokester, too." McDonald said. "We had just wrapped up our Christmas with a Cop program that night."
Just over an hour after the Christmas with a Cop event ended, Bertram attempted to pull over Eads for allegedly driving more than 80 miles an hour in the wrong direction. Eads didn't stop and Bertram and other officers followed, chasing Eads around parts of Clark and Scott County.
"Sergeant Bertram somehow lost control and did strike that tree. Upon striking that tree, the K9 did exit the vehicle and was missing for 30, 40 minutes," McDonald said.
Officers stopped to help Bertram but it was too late.
"We had trouble getting Sergeant Bertram out of the car. We did everything we could," McDonald said. "Everybody there did everything they could and I just want their family to know that."
"Our heart goes out to his family. Last night, his mom and dad got the call that everyone fears," said Bob Hall, the Charlestown, Indiana mayor.
Flowers sit outside the police station. McDonald said crisis counselors and police chaplains will speak with officers that remain about losing Bertram.
Bertram was well-respected, well-liked. The news of his death rips a whole through the close-knit fabric of the community.
"Sergeant Bertram was young but he was a leader and people looked up to him quick so he's going to be missed," Hall said.
"In a smaller agency, we all know each other very, very well," McDonald said. "So this is a tough one."
Bertram had recently retired his longtime K9 partner, Kubo, and was still working with his new K9, McDonald said. After the crash, the dog ran out of the car and was found around 30 minutes later down the road with some injuries. Jeffersonville Police took the dog to an animal hospital for treatment and the animal is believed to be doing okay.
McDonald said they're not sure what the future will hold for the new K9 but said they will treat the matter with great care because above all else, he was Ben Bertram's dog.