A former civilian contractor pleaded guilty Tuesday to a federal charge of aggravated DUI causing the death of a Keesler Air Force Base airman and injuries to three others.
Emmett Jason Bennett, 27, had traces of the prescription painkillers, fentanyl and oxycodone — along with marijuana and an herbal supplement called kratom — in his system when he crashed into four airmen at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi on June 28, 2021.
The crash killed airman Daniel J. Germenis.
Germenis and the three other victims were walking on the Air Force base when Bennett’s Ford F-150 crashed into a light pole, swung around and hit them.
Upon impact, Germenis was dragged over 100 feet before Bennett’s truck stopped 180 feet from the point of impact.
After that, Bennett got out of his vehicle, walked over to Germenis and started “shaking” him in an attempt to “wake him” up, according to the federal criminal complaint and charging documents.
In exchange for his plea in federal court in Gulfport, prosecutors are dismissing an additional charge of involuntary manslaughter.
Judge Sul Ozerden allowed Bennett to remain free on bond with various conditions, including home monitoring and routine alcohol and drug tests. He will be sentenced in November.
Prosecutors did not object to his release pending his sentencing. Bennett is facing a sentence of anywhere between 5 to 25 years plus possible restitution and fines of up to $10,000.
Before accepting Bennett’s guilty plea, Harris told the judge what evidence prosecutors would have produced had the case moved forward to trial.
In addition to the blood test that showed various drugs in his system, Harris said authorities recovered Bennett’s cellphone and found text messages between Emmett and his then fiance discussing his alleged drug use.
A witness also said Bennett nearly hit her car before the fatal crash. Afterward, that witness went to report to security at the Keesler when she saw the deadly crash.
Authorities interviewed Bennett’s fiance a day after the crash.
During that interview, Harris said, authorities learned Bennett smoked marijuana daily, had a problem with opiate use, routinely took kratom and had even overdosed on oxycodone at one point before his arrest in the fatal crash.
In addition, Harris said, authorities determined Bennett was speeding at the time of impact and earlier in the day.
Other evidence included photographs, additional witness testimony and video for jurors had the case gone to trial.
Bennett had been working as a civilian contractor at Keesler for about a month when the incident occurred.
The FBI, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Air Force Security Offices and the Biloxi Police Department handled the investigation. The FBI has jurisdiction because the wreck took place on federal land, and the contractor is a civilian
The family of the Keesler airman who died and the other injured did not attend Tuesday’s court hearing, though an investigator from Keesler’s office of special investigations was there.
Public defender John Weber is representing Bennett.
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