,By Amanda Hayes
Senior Staff Writer
BUCKHANNON — Two Upshur County sheriff’s deputies’ vehicles were damaged in collisions during Monday’s pursuit and eventual arrest of a man accused of attempting to strangle his wife.
Sheriff David Coffman said the evening shift deputies responded to the domestic incident on Marteney Road in which Benjamin Keller, 39, had allegedly strangled his wife and left the scene.
Cpl. Dewaine Linger and a city officer were in pursuit of Keller and chased him out Route 33 West into Lewis County before losing sight of him, according to Coffman. The pursuit reached speeds of 105 mph.
Coffman said he and chief deputy Mike Kelley came on duty about 9:30 or 10 p.m. to assist in the search.
“We received information that he was possibly close to the Hacker’s Creek area in Lewis County,” Coffman said.
“Myself, Cpl. [Theron] Caynor and Kelley were all in separate vehicles, but we were out at Lorentz and going to proceed to Hacker’s Creek,” Coffman said. “Just a short distance out that road, [Keller] passed me. I notified the units behind me and Caynor did a U-turn and activated his blue lights.”
Coffman said several units were posted between Lorentz and the City of Buckhannon’s corporate limits.
Keller stayed on the Old Weston Road, with the speeds reaching up to 90 mph.
“When they came into Liggett Addition, [Keller] suddenly hit his brakes and locked his brakes up,” Coffman said. “We later learned his intentions were to turn right onto the exit ramp of Route 33 there, and he would have been going the wrong way on the exit ramp and then the wrong way on 33.”
Before that could happen, Theron Caynor rear-ended Keller, knocking him through the intersection into the guardrail, according to Coffman.
After that, Cpl. Nick Caynor from the Buckhannon Police Department was able to pin in the Altima by pulling in front of the vehicle to keep Keller from driving off.
Coffman said Keller was “pretty combative” and wouldn’t obey verbal commands.
“He had to be forcibly subdued by several law enforcement officers,” the sheriff said.
So far, Coffman said Keller had been charged with strangulation and two fleeing counts, all felony charges.
“We were very fortunate that nobody received any injuries,” Coffman said. “I think all of the officers from all three agencies — the sheriff’s department, West Virginia State Police and Buckhannon Police Department — acted very professionally and they put all their training to task there. It was a good thing in my opinion that they stopped the pursuit where they did.”
Had Keller gone the wrong way up the exit ramp and then the wrong way on Route 33 or made it into the corporate limits, he could have encountered more vehicles, putting the public at risk, according to Coffman.
“I think how it went down is about as good of an outcome as could have been,” the sheriff continued. “The guy was very determined that he was not going to stop for us and he had indicated that on more than one occasion.”
Coffman said his department had received two estimates on Caynor’s cruiser, with the average of $6,000.
“Right now, it’s driveable,” he said. “We really need to keep it on the road if we possibly can.”
The 2012 Ford Expedition was one of the vehicles Coffman asked to be replaced in the next fiscal budget.
Because the vehicles are in the county’s name, it will be up to the commission to decide whether to fix it or replace it, he added.
Kelley’s vehicle, which was hit during the pursuit, is a 2016 Ford Explorer and has about $1,600 worth of damage.
Keller remained in the TVRJ on a $100,000 bond — $50,000 cash and $50,000 surety.