19-year-old Rutland cop dies in line of duty

From family of cops, Jessica Ebbighausen wanted to be a police officer since she was nine

by Mike Donoghue, Vermont News First

Jessica Ebbighausen. Photo credit

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.”

Categories: Crime

8 replies »

  1. This is just so incredibly heartbreaking that I had to fight back tears. These violent criminals need to be kept behind bars where they rightfully belong to protect and preserve the safety and the very lives of each & every innocent Vermonter. This horrific heart-wrenching could have been altogether avoided and this young woman could be continuing to fulfill her life-long dream of serving & protecting the citizenry of this State.

    May God welcome Officer Ebbighaussen into His Kingdom, and may God bless her family & friends in the midst of their grief, as we ask Him to please bring them the peace which surpasses all understanding. Thank you Officer Ebbighaussen, and may you rest in peace with God as you continue to protect and serve those of us left behind on the other side of the veil.

  2. An idiot attempting to flee a traffic stop apparently caused this crash directly resulting in the death of a female police officer in the line of duty. We will not however be having riots, and blaming all civilian drivers and accusing them of gender bias for this violent act like the left blamed all police and called them racist after the death of George Floyd. There will not be random acts of arson to the private dwellings and vehicles of motorists, unlike when numerous police stations and vehicles were attacked and burned. We will not have large rallies with angry, raised fists protesting this callous act resulting in the death of an innocent Law Enforcement Officer, demanding that we “say her name”. There will not be yard signs put out with the likeness of Officer Ebbighaussen proclaiming that “hate has no home here” and “water is life”. The most we can hope for besides peace and comfort for her family is a long term of incarceration for the person who robbed us all of her life and dedication to public service. Rest in Peace, Officer Ebbighaussen.

  3. What a shame…RIP to the young officer and condolences to her family. Our family lost an officer, slain in the line of duty, so feel their pain.

  4. For those who were melting down last week because an officer shot someone in a moving vehicle, a reminder: a moving vehicle IS a deadly weapon and a driver not complying should be treated as a deadly assailant. So sad.

  5. No special brand of people were involved to cause a social ruckus, luckily for us. But if there had been… the whole world would know about it by now.
    And BTW, I guess Scott can’t bring himself to say “thoughts AND prayers…” b/c that might jeopardize his future prospects in Vermontvilleburg.

  6. This is a truly heartbreaking moment in Rutland Vermont history…

    My thoughts and prayers go out for this young lady and her family.. may she rest in peace.

    These problems will never end until we take complete control of our justice system.

    This should send a message across the state of Vermont and the country that we need to remove George Soros funded state’s attorneys from every state since they are doing his bidding instead of upholding law and order across America.

    We need to dig even deeper and we need to root out every bad administrator in police departments including police chiefs.

    When we have situations where criminals are not interrogated or prosecuted, for whatever reason, law enforcement leaves another bad actor on the streets to commit these types of atrocities.

    When we leave it up to police to decide who they will prosecute we leave a big hole in our protection of the public at large.

    There is so much work that needs to be done and so many obstacles in the way that prevent this work from being achieved that it’s unbelievable…

    May God protect the police officers that go out and serve on a daily basis and protect them from the criminals that the people we depend on let them continue roaming the streets.

  7. Waiting to see “Blue Lives Matter” painted on Main Streets in Montpelier, Burlington and Rutland. waiting…..waiting…..waiting…..waiting…..waiting….