HOULTON, Maine — An escapee from a Louisiana detention center was taken into custody Saturday night after fleeing the Houlton Port of Entry earlier that day.
Benjamin Gottke, 43, had been at large since last Thursday after escaping from the Tensas Parish Detention Center in Waterproof, La., and stealing a backup police cruiser.
According to a report by Lindsey Shelton in the Natchez Democrat’s Saturday online edition, Gottke was serving time for simple burglary and had about nine months left on his sentence.
At the time of his escape, he was working as a trusty in the sheriff’s office kitchen and was soon going to be eligible for work release.
According to Michelle Benson-Fuller, spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an individual presented himself at the Houlton port Saturday afternoon just after 2:30 p.m. driving a vehicle with Louisiana license plates.
It is unknown, she said, whether the driver was heading in or out of this country.
“It was unclear what direction he was going,” Benson-Fuller said late Saturday night. “When he came into contact he was trying to get into the lane coming into the United States but he could have been going north and then turned around in between the two ports.”
Sunday morning Houlton Police Chief Butch Asselin said it appeared Gottke was planning on entering Canada in the stolen, unmarked police cruiser.
“He may have gotten to the port quicker than he expected,” Asselin said. “When he went to turn around in ‘no-man’s-land’ between the two ports [CBP] was going to do a secondary check and he took off.”
When CBP officials asked for Gottke’s identification at the Houlton port, Benson-Fuller said, he indicated he did not have any or a registration for the vehicle.
“When he was asked to turn off the car he accelerated and ran the port heading south on I-95,” Benson-Fuller said. “We contacted the state police and our law enforcement partners to undertake a search as we normally do to locate a suspect.”
Members of the U.S. Border Patrol, working with air support and a K-9 unit, located the vehicle abandoned at Irving Big Stop in Houlton about an hour later. Asselin said it appeared Gottke had fled on foot.
“He crossed both lanes of the interstate on foot,” he said. “His goal was to get into Canada on foot.”
Asselin said his department got word out to the public through local media asking residents to keep a lookout for the escaped prisoner.
“We started to get some calls that he was seen on Elm Street,” Asselin said. “Then someone driving heard the broadcast and spotted someone who matched the description and came in to the police station to report it.”
Gottke was subsequently located on the corner of Park and High Streets.
When he was approached by law enforcement officers, Asselin said, Gottke resisted arrest and police used a Taser on him twice before placing him into custody.
Gottke is facing charges in Maine as a fugitive from justice and resisting arrest as well as charges in Louisiana of simple escape and theft of a vehicle.
He is being held in the Aroostook County Jail and Asselin said he anticipates Gottke will be arraigned later this week.
“It sounded like he’d been planning this escape for awhile,” Asselin said. “His jail garb was found in the cruiser and he stole that car July 12 and made it all the way to Houlton.”
Benson-Fuller said the arrest of Gottke was the result of all northern Maine law enforcement personnel doing their jobs, including those with Customs and Border Protection.
“We have highly trained officers and agents and whenever there is an issue of safety they want to make sure we are protected,” she said.
Primary officers in the arrest were Houlton Officer Charles Wampler III, Sgt. Fred Parker, Sgt. Eric Crouse and Officer Theron Bickford.