Houlton gets to keep police cruiser after helping arrest Louisiana fugitive who stole it

Posted July 30, 2012, at 5:26 p.m.

HOULTON, Maine — The sheriff’s office that owned an unmarked police cruiser that was stolen by an escapee from a Louisiana detention center and driven 1,800 miles to Maine sent a message regarding the car to the town that helped capture the fugitive — keep it.

And while Benjamin Gottke, 43, remains in the custody of Aroostook County authorities, the town is weighing its options concerning what it will do with the vehicle, Aroostook County Assistant District Attorney Kurt Kafferlin said Monday.

During a Town Council meeting in Houlton last week, councilors accepted the donation of the 2002 Ford Crown Victoria stolen by Gottke and used in his escape. It was donated by the Tensas Parish (La.) Sheriff’s Office.

Houlton Police Chief Butch Asselin told the group that the car has nearly 170,000 miles on it but appears to be in good condition. During the meeting, councilors discussed plans to use the vehicle to replace a town car currently being driven by its code enforcement officer. The unmarked police car would replace the his 2005 Chevrolet, which is in need of significant repairs.

Gottke stole the backup police cruiser July 12 after escaping from the Tensas Parish Detention Center in Waterproof, La.. He had been serving time for simple burglary and had about nine months left on his sentence.

He apparently became confused on July 14 while trying to navigate the border crossing at Houlton in a possible attempt to enter Canada, according to police.

Officials are unsure whether Gottke was heading in or out of this country when he arrived at 2:30 p.m. at the Houlton Port of Entry.

“It was unclear what direction he was going,” Michelle Benson-Fuller, spokesperson for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said later that day. “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.”

When he was asked for identification at the port of entry, Gottke sped off and police found the unmarked cruiser abandoned at a Houlton restaurant. Gottke fled on foot and was located and arrested on the corner of Park and High streets.

Gottke is charged in Maine as being a fugitive from justice and resisting arrest as well as charges in Louisiana of simple escape and theft of a vehicle.

Last week, he stated his intentions to fight extradition and requested a formal extradition hearing in Maine. Louisiana authorities said they would petition Gov. Paul LePage to return Gottke to that state.

An extradition hearing is scheduled for Aug. 7 in Houlton Superior Court.

Kafferlin said Monday that because Gottke has been charged with escape, the judge does not have the discretion to set bail. The fugitive will remain in jail until the hearing.

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