By Joseph Cyr
HOULTON — The vehicle an escaped criminal used to drive from St. Joseph, La. to Houlton has been donated to the town.
Monday evening, Houlton town councilors accepted the donation of the 2002 white Ford Crown Victoria vehicle used by Benjamin Gottke when he escaped from the Tensas Parish Detention Center July 12. The vehicle was donated to the town by the Tensas Parish Sheriff’s Office, who declined to have it brought back to Louisiana.
Gottke was serving time for burglary and had nine months left on his sentence when he left the detention facility, stole the police cruiser and drove nearly 2,000 miles through portions of at least 10 states on his way to Maine.
Houlton Police Chief Butch Asselin explained that the vehicle appears to be in good condition, despite having nearly 170,000 miles on it.
“We haven’t had it checked out by a mechanic yet, but it looks clean,” Asselin said. “I’m not sure how much use we will get out of it, but it should be fine.”
The town plans to give the vehicle to Code Enforcement Officer Kevin Tingley for use on the job. Tingley is currently driving a 2005 Chevrolet that is need of major repairs.
Council Chairman Paul Cleary used the opportunity to publicly thank the Houlton Police Department and members of the public for their efforts in apprehending Gottke in a timely manner.
“That was a pretty scary situation, but it was great to see our police department work together (with other law agencies) to have a happy ending to the situation,” Cleary said.
In other agenda items, the council:
• Approved a change in the R3-zone, which is mostly located along upper Military Street, that will allow automobile sales to take place. The current zoning language prohibited the sale of vehicles in this area. The town’s planning board also gave its approval to the zone change. Any business that wishes to start an auto sales business in this zone must still submit an application to the planning board for review.
• Renewed liquor licenses for The Vault Restaurant, Horn of Plenty and Tang’s Chinese Cuisine.
• Accepted $28,000 in donations to be used toward the “Welcome to Houlton” sign that was recently erected. The total cost of the sign is $39,000. An additional $6,000 remains to be raised.
• Approved a Beano/Bingo application for the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians.
• Ratified new contracts with the Emergency Medical Technicians and Firefighter/Drivers unions. The contracts are retroactive to 2011 and last until 2014. Included in the deal is a 2 percent raise in wages for 2012 and 2013 for both groups, as well as an agreement to share all future increases in health insurance premiums.
The next regular council meeting is slated for Monday, Aug. 6 at 6:30 p.m.
By Joseph Cyr