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Prosecutors say man stole van, drove drunk until collision in Whitefish

Hagadone News Network | October 19, 2022 1:00 AM

A motorist driving an allegedly stolen construction van in the wrong lane of U.S. 93 before crashing into a camper in Whitefish late last month remains behind bars with bail set at $75,000.

Benjamin Edward Brant, 43, faces felony counts of criminal endangerment, theft, criminal mischief and driving under the influence, fourth or subsequent offense, following his Sept. 28 arrest in Whitefish. His arraignment before Judge Dan Wilson in Flathead County District Court is set for Oct. 28.

Authorities began pursuing Brant after receiving calls regarding a recklessly driven vehicle headed north from Kalispell toward Whitefish about 8:25 a.m., according to court documents. The van, after allegedly driving in the wrong lane, then sped into Whitefish, court documents said.

After running several red lights at speeds above the local limit, the van struck multiple vehicles and crashed into a camper van, court documents said. Occupants of the latter vehicle suffered injuries in the collision.

Officials later deemed the damage caused by the collisions at more than $1,500, court documents said.

Workers at a nearby construction site restrained the driver of the van until Whitefish Police officers arrived at the scene of the wreck, court documents said. Authorities identified him as Brant, though he allegedly gave officers a fake name.

He also acted erratically, appearing “paranoid” and “frantic,” according to court documents. Officers described him as making nonsensical statements and accusing them of duct-taping him at one point. Suspecting drug use, officers took Brant to Logan Health Whitefish for a blood draw rather than administer field sobriety tests, court documents said. Authorities sent samples to the Montana State Crime Lab for analysis.

A review of Brant’s criminal history showed three prior driving under the influence convictions in 2011, 2012 and 2013, court documents said.

Investigators later learned that the van allegedly was stolen from a Kalispell business and valued at more than $5,000.

Criminal endangerment and criminal mischief carry a maximum penalty each of 10 years in state prison and a $50,000 fine. Theft comes with 10 years behind bars at most and a $10,000 fine.

Driving under the influence, fourth or subsequent offense, is punishable with a commitment to the state Department of Corrections of between 13 months and two years while awaiting placement in a residential treatment program, to be followed by a suspended sentence of up to five years and a fine of between $5,000 and $10,000.