TAMPA — The man who drove drunk in a pool-supply truck and caused a crash that killed a pedestrian in January on Tampa’s Bayshore Boulevard pleaded guilty Tuesday in exchange for a 12-year prison sentence.
Benjamin Douglas Ehas admitted to a charge of DUI manslaughter for the Jan. 9 death of George Gage, who was struck by the truck Ehas was driving and thrown into the waters off the iconic Tampa boulevard. The plea agreement also calls for close to three years of probation. He must complete any recommended drug and alcohol treatment and will have his driver’s license revoked for life.
Ehas, 32, appeared on a closed-circuit video wearing orange jail garb.
“I just want it to be known I take full responsibility for my actions that day,” he said. “I’m deeply sorry for the life I took way too early. And I just hope the family can one day have forgiveness in their hearts.”
Gage’s family did not attend the brief court hearing, citing COVID-19 restrictions. But a prosecutor read a statement they had prepared.
“Your actions that day will forever be embedded in our brains, our hearts and our souls,” they wrote. “We still have a hard time explaining to George’s five grandchildren how this could happen to ‘Pop,’ which is what they called him, when he was doing nothing wrong.
“He was just on his daily walk, speaking to his sister, Jane, which he did for hours every day. And she passed a few months ago, unexpectedly, probably from a broken heart. ... We will never fully recover from this and can only take things one day at a time and hope that the pain subsides eventually.”
Although they called his actions reckless and said he had forever altered their lives, the family voiced no ill will toward Ehas. They said they hoped he could make something good from the tragedy.
The 12-year sentence was a little less than the 15-year maximum Ehas faced. Speaking with reporters afterward, State Attorney Andrew Warren noted that it was greater than the 10 years that state guidelines suggested. He said Gage’s family also expressed a desire to avoid the emotional toll that would come with a trial.
“The fact that we were able to achieve an appropriate, long sentence, I think provides some closure,” Warren said. “But at the end of the day, Mr. Gage’s family is going to have to live with the life that was taken from them permanently.”
The crash happened the morning of Jan. 9. Ehas was driving a Pinch A Penny pool-supply truck. Witnesses reported seeing the truck weaving in and out of traffic at speeds estimated at more than 60 mph as it headed north on Bayshore Boulevard.
The truck veered off the road near Julia Street, plowing over a curb and across the grassy shoulder onto the sidewalk, where it slammed into Gage before crashing into the balustrade.
Gage, 70, a retired financial trust officer from Tampa, had been out for a morning walk. He was thrown into the waters of Hillsborough Bay. Bystanders dove in to rescue him, but he was pronounced dead soon afterward.
Ehas, 32, was seriously hurt and later was placed on a ventilator at Tampa General Hospital, according to court testimony. Tests pegged his blood alcohol content at 0.234, according to an arrest report, nearly three times the legal limit of 0.08.
Police obtained surveillance video and a receipt showing that Ehas had purchased a double shot of Fireball cinnamon whiskey at a liquor store on Gandy Boulevard minutes before the crash, according to court records. He admitted to a detective that he’d drank and smoked marijuana that morning and taken a dose of suboxone, a drug used to treat opioid dependence.
Gage is one of five people who have been killed in crashes along Bayshore Boulevard in the past two years.
In 2018, Jessica Reisinger-Raubenolt and her 21-month-old daughter, Lillia, were killed when they were struck by a Ford Mustang that police and prosecutors say was racing another car. The accused drivers, Cameron Herrin and John Barrineau, face charges of vehicular homicide. They are set for trial in January.
In April, Hal Holmes Flowers, a 50-year-old attorney, was crossing Bayshore on a bicycle when he was struck by a motorcycle. He later died at the hospital. The motorcyclist, Justin Glenn Winterhalter, 31, also died.
There are few other roads like Bayshore Boulevard. Million-dollar mansions and high-rise condominiums line one side of the roadway, which serves as a bustling thoroughfare between downtown and South Tampa. A tree-dotted median runs between them. On the other side, a 4.5-mile sidewalk and balustrade line the waterfront. It’s a popular spot for walkers, runners, bicyclists and skaters.
The string of fatal crashes spurred public discussion about how to make Bayshore safer. City officials taken steps, including lowering speed limits and installing new traffic signals. Some have said that racing and speeding remain a constant danger.
Correction: An arrest report stated that Benjamin Ehas’ blood alcohol content was nearly three times the legal limit of 0.08. An earlier version of this story overstated how far over the limit the blood alcohol content was.