ALLEN COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) – For several days, he lived the lie.
The night of the crash, he told first responders the other man had been behind the wheel of the pickup truck. He had merely been a passenger when the truck went off the road, hit some fence posts and flipped on its roof.
The man who ended up pinned in that wreckage, he insisted, he’s the one who drove.
He lived that lie for days – until an Allen County Sheriff’s officer confronted him in the foyer of his own Grabill home. And that’s when 36-year-old Jason Jacob Zehr hung his head and finally told the truth, according to newly released Allen Superior Court documents:
He drove that pickup the afternoon 23-year-old Benjamin A. Brandenberger died.
Allen County Prosecutors on Tuesday formally charged Zehr with a felony count of causing death when operating a motor vehicle with a scheduled I or II controlled substance in his system and a misdemeanor count of driving while suspended in connection to the crash last year.
Emergency crews were called to the area of the 13500 block of Antwerp Road, a little over a mile south of Grabill, on Nov. 11 on a report of a single vehicle rollover crash.
There, they found a pickup truck flipped upside down with Brandenberger pinned inside, according to court documents and an Allen County Sheriff’s report. Brandenberger, of Grabill, was pronounced dead at the scene.
While he maintained that Brandenberger drove the truck, police took Zehr to a local hospital for a blood draw. The results showed Zehr had benzoylecgonine in his system, according to court documents, which is the main metabolite of cocaine.
On Nov. 14, a sheriff’s officer went to Zehr’s home, talked with him in the foyer and told him that his story does not match the evidence at the scene, according to court documents. The officer told him the truth needed to be told, court documents said.
That’s when Zehr hung his head and admitted to driving the pickup truck.
Zehr was booked into Allen County Jail shortly after prosecutors issued a warrant for his arrest.
He is also a suspect in a late November crash that caused roughly $100,000 in damage to bleachers on the visitor’s side at South Side High School’s football stadium.
In that crash, a GMC Sierra drove off the road along Clinton Street and crashed through a fence and into the stadium, according to Fort Wayne police. The driver then fled the scene.
Police found that Zehr owned the truck involved. Zehr claimed he was not driving, that he wasn’t involved in the crash and that it was a company truck that hit the bleachers, according to police. He has not been arrested or charged in connection to that crash.
Fort Wayne Community Schools officials hope to have the bleachers repaired by the upcoming football season.