Iron Ford
  • Benbrook Sentenced to Disorderly Conduct for February 2 Wreck

    Michael Tow
    Friday, September 9, 2016

    For seven months now, some members of the public have questioned whether Sierra Benbrook avoided harsher consequences for her negligence in a February traffic crash due to her father, Jamie Benbrook, being a Pinckneyville police officer. Over those same seven months, Perry and Washington County officials have done little to counter that perception.

    On February 2, Benbrook was driving a late-model Ford F-150 pickup truck south on White Walnut Road when the truck, with passengers Delaney Kelly, Tionna Hunt, Gabbi Vordtriede, and Alexis Rice, left the road, entered a ditch, and struck a utility pole near the intersection with Park Road. According to documents and dispatch recordings obtained by the Pinckneyville Press through the Freedom of Information Act, when Benbrook called 911 she reported repeatedly the crash occurred after “we swerved to miss a deer.” Perry County Sheriff’s Deputies Timothy Jablonski and Ryan Uhe, along with Sergeant William Reagan, were dispatched to the crash site and began to question the passengers as to the cause of the accident. Sergeant Reagan reported that Hunt informed him “there was no deer in the roadway,” and the teens were “on their phones and ‘snap chatting.’”

    After Vordtriede was airlifted to St. Louis Children’s Hospital (Kelly would later be flown to St. Louis as well) the officers accompanied the other four girls to Pinckneyville Community Hospital, where the officers continued their investigation. Sergeant Reagan and Deputy Jablonski next interviewed Delaney Kelly and learned, according to Kelly, that Benbrook was standing through the truck’s open sunroof while Vordtriede handled the steering wheel and recorded a video of Benbrook to be posted to social media site Snapchat just before the truck began to leave the roadway. At that time, Kelly stated Benbrook returned to the driver’s seat and attempted to regain control of the vehicle. Moments later, the truck struck the utility pole and Kelly and Hunt, both unrestrained in the rear seat, were thrown into the front seat. After the truck came to a stop, all five teens left the truck and apparently Benbrook told the others “the story is we swerved to miss a deer.” Benbrook then dialed 911.

    During the officers’ interview with Benbrook, she admitted fabricating the deer story and that she was standing through the sunroof when the truck began to swerve. Deputy Jablonski ticketed Benbrook for reckless driving, failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident, operating a vehicle with expired registration, and failure to wear a seatbelt. For reasons that remain unexplained, however, none of those charges appear to have been pressed in court according to court documents acquired by the Pinckneyville Press. Instead, the lone charge against Sierra Benbrook was disorderly conduct, to which she plead guilty and was sentenced to 100 hours of community service, 12 months probation, and $500 in fines.

    The effort to have the lone charge of disorderly conduct explained to the public began with Perry County State’s Attorney David Stanton and has yielded no answers since the charge was filed in mid-May. Stanton deferred all questions to the special prosecutor who handled the case, Washington County Assistant State’s Attorney Jennifer Becker-Roscow. Becker-Roscow was asked to take the case given Benbrook’s father, Jamie, being a Pinckneyville police officer and Kelly’s father, Bobby, being the chairman of the Perry County Board of Commissioners. Jamie Benbrook, many will remember, served a one-day suspension and six months of probation for his appearing to give preferential treatment to the son of the then Pinckneyville Mayor August Kellerman in a questionable wreck in November 2011.

    Taking Stanton’s instruction, calls were made to Becker-Roscow’s office, and all six of them followed the same script. After answering, office staff implied that Becker-Roscow was in the office and available until indication was given of the call regarding the Sierra Benbrook case. Only then did office staff claim Becker-Roscow to be unavailable. During the final call, office staff relayed a message from Becker-Roscow that all questions would need to be directed to Stanton. Upon replying that it was Stanton who initially referred all inquiries to Becker-Roscow, the call went silent. No messages left for Becker-Roscow were ever returned.

    Compounding matters is the issue of a missing cell phone that was requested by the Perry County Sheriff’s Department as part of their investigation. Three days after the crash, Sergeant Scott Kellerman and Lieutenant Wally Behm drove to the residence of Perry County Board Commissioner Bobby Kelly to collect the cell phone of his daughter, Delaney, as part of their criminal investigation into the crash. The phone was expected to be turned over to the sheriff’s department the previous evening, and when Kellerman and Behm arrived, they were told the phone had gone missing. In a conversation with Sheriff Steve Bareis, the sheriff said he was ready to involve the Illinois State Police in the collection of Kelly’s phone, and a possible charge of obstruction of justice if the phone was not surrendered to investigators. Bareis only dropped the matter when a member of Snapchat’s Law Enforcement Operations replied that there was no content on Snapchat’s servers pertinent to the crash. In a telephone interview, Commissioner Kelly twice stated that his daughter’s phone never went missing, a claim Sheriff Bareis strongly refuted in a follow-up call. What clearly remains missing, however, is the explanation for the single charge of disorderly conduct against Benbrook.

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