RACINE COUNTY — Benjamin Bell, the man responsible for the death of a Racine County sanitation worker in December was sentenced Monday, September 18th. Despite pleas from his family, the judge wanted to send a message in this case.
Adorned in orange, 20-year-old Bell took his seat in a Racine County courtroom Monday to learn his fate. He was convicted in the death of Mark Gates, a sanitation worker and pastor.
“The gravity of this offense, and the taking of the life of Mark Gates, I believe necessitates a prison sentence here,” Judge Emily Mueller said.
Bell in July pleaded no contest to a charge of homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle and a charge of first degree recklessly endangering safety. He was sentenced to serve three years in prison and three years extended supervision on the first count, and two years in prison and two years extended supervision on the second count. That sentence on Count 2 was stayed, and Bell was ordered to serve four years probation.
So in all, he’ll serve three years in prison and seven years extended supervision/probation.
“It was an accident. It was a tragic accident that took somebody’s life, but an accident nonetheless,” Bell’s mother said.
The crash happened near Washington and Oregon in Racine. A silver Mustang crashed into the back end of a Racine DPW garbage truck parked in the right lane with its safety flashers activated. A recycling bin was loaded on the mechanical apparatus to dump the recycling bin into the truck.
The criminal complaint indicates Mark Gates, a City of Racine sanitation worker and beloved pastor was found pinned between the front end of the Mustang and the back of the garbage truck. Gates was taken to the hospital via Flight for Life — where he died around 3:15 p.m. Wednesday.
The complaint states Benjamin Bell was driving the Mustang. Skid/tire marks were found beginning just west of Indiana Street and extending west to the intersection of Oregon/Washington. Just west of Oregon Street, the complaint indicates the right wheels of the Mustang mounted the piled snow along the north curb line and rode on the snow until it impacted the garbage truck.
An officer noted an odor of marijuana coming from the Mustang after the crash, according to the complaint.
One witness told officers the Mustang passed him on Washington Avenue at Lathrop, and it was traveling at approximately 60 miles-per-hour.
Another witness said he saw the Mustang changing from one lane to another to pass vehicles, and he estimated the Mustang was traveling 10 to 15 miles per hour over the posted 30 miles-per-hour speed limit.
A third witness said she saw the Mustang driving recklessly on Washington Avenue — traveling at a high rate of speed and weaving between lanes to pass vehicles.A passenger in the Mustang told investigators he believed Bell was going no more than five miles over the speed limit — and he was texting, and looked up, and the garbage truck was right in front of him.
Before he was sentenced, Bell himself took a moment to address the court.
“I shouldn’t have been speeding. I’m not going to deny that. I made a mistake. I wish I could take it back everyday, because of my actions somebody did die and it kills me inside,” Bell said.
Bell stressed his clean record and indicated he was driving fast to help a friend get to a job interview, however, the judge felt a message needed to be sent to Bell and the community.
“It was almost bound to happen if you kept driving the way you`d been driving,” Judge Mueller said.