By Bob Uphues
The man suspected of driving a car through a track and field meet at S.E. Gross Middle School last week reportedly was trying to elude police because he was wanted for jumping bail in Florida in 2011 after pleading guilty to a drug trafficking charge there.
On April 18, Judge Carol Kipperman issued a warrant for the arrest of 29-year-old Jason M. Bentley for aggravated fleeing and eluding in connection with the high-speed chase in Brookfield on the afternoon of April 15.
Bentley is accused of fleeing from police during a routine traffic stop on Southview Avenue at Raymond Avenue and then speeding down Arthur Avenue to Lincoln Avenue, and driving into the playground/parking lot area of S.E. Gross Middle School, where between 45 and 60 people were attending a middle school track and field meet.
No one was hurt, but children and adults reportedly were forced to jump out of the way of the purple Hyundai Elantra that Bentley was driving.
"He did some doughnuts, and parents were grabbing kids to get them out of the way," said Brookfield Police Chief Steven Stelter. "By the grace of God, nobody was hurt."
As Bentley frantically searched for a way out of the parking lot, according to Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95 Superintendent Mark Kuzniewski, one adult pulled a 4-year-old Hillside girl out of the path of the car, which may have grazed the child as it sped by. Paramedics were called to examine the girl, who was determined to be unhurt.
"She was literally pulled from harm's way," said Kuzniewski.
The track meet involved three schools, S.E. Gross, Lindop School from Broadview and Hillside School. Including parents who attended the meet, said Kuzniewski, there were hundreds of people in and around Gross School when the car sped through the playground.
Fortunately, said Kuzniewski, most of the running events were over and 75 percent of the people at the meet were either at Madlin Park or in the Gross School gymnasium, where field events were taking place.
"Had he come in the heat of the running competition, we'd have had a lot of injuries," said Kuzniewski.
After about 15 seconds, the Hyundai found an opening in the fence at Broadway Avenue, exited the parking lot area and headed east down Broadway Avenue to Park Avenue, where it sped north and lost police north of 31st Street. Stelter said the chase was terminated because, in the middle of rush hour with many pedestrians in the area, it was deemed too dangerous to continue.
Brookfield police were able to get a license plate number and traced the vehicle to a woman who lives in the 3900 block of South Campbell Avenue in Chicago's McKinley Park neighborhood.
Chicago police contacted the woman and notified her that Brookfield police wanted to speak with her. The woman drove the Hyundai to the police station later on, the night of April 15.
Initially, the woman told police she did not know the car's driver very well and could not provide his last name or address. However, while processing the car, police recovered an employment application for the Lofton Landscaping Company, a Brookfield business located on Southview Avenue about two blocks away from where the traffic stop occurred.
According to Brookfield police, a Michigan driver's license bearing the name Jason Erickson was also recovered from the Hyundai.
The employment application was dated April 9, signed with the name Jason P. Erickson and included a Chicago address. Police were able to connect that address with Jason Bentley, who had obtained an Illinois driver's license bearing that address in 2008.
In 2010, Bentley had to surrender that driver's license to authorities when he was charged with two counts of illegal prescription drug trafficking in Osceola County, Fla. Bentley posted bond in that case and in April 2011 pleaded guilty to one count of felony drug trafficking. The second count was to be dropped at sentencing.
Then in May 2011 while awaiting sentencing, Bentley was arrested again, this time for misdemeanor drug possession, in Osceola County. Again he was able to post bond, but he failed to appear for his Aug. 5, 2011 sentencing hearing on the felony charge.
In September 2012, Bentley was arrested for criminal impersonation in Dyersburg, Tenn. Florida court records indicate that Osceola County authorities were made aware of that arrest, but Bentley was never extradited and, in January 2013, the Dyer County Sheriff's Office sent notice to Osceola County that Bentley had posted bond for the Tennessee incident.