From family of cops, Jessica Ebbighausen wanted to be a police officer since she was nine
by Mike Donoghue, Vermont News First
The reckless driver that investigators said crashed his truck nearly head-on into a Rutland City Police cruiser killing a young officer on Friday has been arrested on two felony charges as he recovers from his injuries at a Burlington hospital, officials said.
Tate Rheaume, 20, is initially charged with gross negligent operation with death resulting and attempting to elude Rutland Police with death resulting, records show. More charges are possible, Rutland County State’s Attorney Ian Sullivan said Saturday.
“There are still elements of the investigation that are playing out,” Sullivan said. The two criminal charges were enough to get Rheaume ordered held for lack of $500,000 bail. Judge Cortland Corsones set the bail after reviewing the preliminary findings by police, Sullivan said.
Rheaume remains at the UVM Medical Center in Burlington and police shifted his custody to the Vermont Department of Corrections. While still at the hospital, Rheaume was listed as part of the inmate population at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in South Burlington as of about 2:30 Saturday morning, records show.
Rheaume is charged in connection with the death of Rutland City Officer Jessica Ebbighausen, 19, of Ira during a catastrophic crash on Woodstock Avenue shortly before 3 p.m. Friday.
The State Police investigation revealed Rheaume, who was fleeing from city police, crossed the double yellow line on Woodstock Avenue, also known as U.S. 4, to drive around another westbound vehicle. He also crossed over the first oncoming eastbound lane and then slammed nearly head-on into the cruiser, which was in the far-right hand eastbound lane, police said.
Rheaume is expected to be arraigned in Vermont Superior Court in Rutland on Monday, but he is likely to appear by video arraignment from the Burlington hospital room.
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott was among public figures expressing condolences about the senseless death of Ebbighausen.
Scott said he was “deeply saddened” by the first on-duty death of a police officer in 20 years.”My deepest condolences go out to her family and friends, all members of the Rutland City Police Department and the entire Rutland community,” Scott said. “This is a reminder of the risks our officers face every day, and my thoughts are with all of them.”
Lt. Col. James Whitcomb, the deputy director of the Vermont State Police, said during a televised news conference Friday night that Ebbighausen had a long and bright police career ahead of her, but it was lost in the horrific crash.
Ebbighausen wanted to be a police officer since she was 9 years-old and did an internship with the Rutland Police while in high school, Chief Brian Kilcullen said. She had played field hockey for Rutland High.
Rutland City hired Ebbighausen in May and she recently obtained her certification as a part-time officer at the Vermont Police Academy. She was scheduled to seek her full-time certification at the academy starting in August.
Public safety service is part of the Ebbighausen family’s DNA. It includes her grandfather, Robert Ebbighausen, who served as chairman of the Rutland City Police Commission and her cousin, Patrol Sgt. Karl Ebbighausen, a well-known commander with the Hartford Police in Windsor County.
Officer Ebbighausen was on routine patrol operating the Rutland Police cruiser with a supervisor, Officer Richard Caravaggio, as her front seat passenger. They were attempting to back up a Rutland Police Officer, who said he was chasing suspect from a reported possible break-in at an East Washington Street residence, state police said.
Rheaume was westbound on Woodstock Avenue when he crossed into oncoming traffic and struck the eastbound cruiser with Ebbighausen and Caravaggio about 2:53 p.m., police said.
Ebbighausen was dead at the scene from blunt force trauma, state police said. The pursuit lasted slightly less than two miles.
The truck operated by Rheaume, rolled over and landed on its roof and the police cruiser turned on its side, investigators said. Rheaume’s truck caused extensive front end damage to another eastbound police cruiser, which was operated by Officer Kelsey Parker. Parker, a former Williston Police Officer, was treated and released at Rutland Regional Medical Center.
Caravaggio was also taken to the Rutland hospital where he was treated and eventually released on Saturday, police said.
The original police cruiser that started the chase was not involved in the crash, police said. The driver was Officer Jared Dumas.
Caravaggio and Dumas are award-winning officers and both received the Rutland City Police Department’s Life Saving Award last year. Caravaggio also has served as a union president.
Hartford Sgt. Karl Ebbighausen, a 34-year police veteran, said in a Facebook post that his cousin had apparently followed Rutland Police Department policies with her actions on Friday. Sgt. Ebbighausen said that was based on what he had learned from Hartford Police Chief Greg Sheldon, a former Rutland City Police Commander, who had checked in with his old department. Sgt. Ebbighausen said Sheldon had gone to the scene.
Sullivan, the county prosecutor, said he had only met Ebbighausen in passing during a recent “Coffee With A Cop” in Rutland when she attended with a senior officer.
Sullivan, who went to the crash scene and worked with police well into the night and early morning hours, said he was impressed by the professionalism of the first responders, especially in a tragic case where they lost one of their own.
He said his office was amazed by the staunch support that has been offered from state prosecutors from across Vermont and also from some retirees.
Ebbighausen’s body was escorted by police up U.S. 7 to Burlington on Friday evening for an autopsy by the office of Vermont’s Chief Medical Examiner. The autopsy was completed and more than 30 police vehicles escorted the hearse back down U.S. 7 to the Aldous Funeral Home in Rutland on Saturday afternoon.
The State Police Crash Reconstruction Team is investigating all issues, including whether speed or impairment played a role in the case.
Police deaths in the line of duty in Vermont are somewhat rare. The last police officer killed in the line of duty was State Police Patrol Sgt. Michael W. Johnson, who was killed on Father’s Day 2003 by a reckless driver failing to stop for a trooper and crashing. The driver got 28-to-33 years in prison for a series of crimes including involuntary manslaughter in the death of Johnson, 39, the father of 3 children.
Sunday was the 58th anniversary of the murder of Lyndonville Police Chief Alexander Fontecha, 45, who was fatally shot on the front porch of his home by a suspected arsonist in 1965. Fontecha, who died in the arms of his 15-year-old son, was a former Northfield Police Chief.
Kilcullen said Ebbighausen’s death was tough on the officers and the emergency dispatchers.
“We are hurting right now,” he said during the news conference. “With the events of this week, you can imagine that.”
Speaking at the news conference shortly after 10 p.m. Friday, the chief said there was a strong showing of community support for the department over the previous seven hours.
A Rutland Police supervisor was forced to shoot a driver as they drove toward him as officers investigated possible drug activity at Giorgetti Park earlier in the week. City Police also were part of a major drug raid at the Highlander Motel with the Vermont Drug Task Force and federal agents this week.
Whitcomb said Vermont State Police and game wardens from the Fish and Wildlife Department would supply primary law-enforcement coverage in the city for at least 12 hours. Rutland City Police resumed patrols on Saturday.
U.S. Rep. Recca Balint, D-VT, offered her thoughts in a statement issued Saturday afternoon about the young policewoman being killed in the line of duty.
“This brave, young Vermonter from Ira was at the very start of her career in law enforcement. She was only two months into her job, when she courageously jumped into action to pursue a fleeing vehicle with her fellow officer and lost her life while protecting Vermonters,” Balint said.
“Jessica exemplifies the very best of Vermonters, heroically responding without hesitation to help in a dangerous situation.”