The man who led the authorities on a high-speed pursuit through Park City and the Snyderville Basin in February pleaded guilty to two charges stemming from the case on Monday and was sentenced to prison for up to five years.
It was an unexpectedly quick finish to the criminal case against Jason Bennett, a 37-year-old who the authorities have said is a transient. Felony cases like Bennett's typically take months to complete and sometimes much longer. The pleading and sentencing on Monday was less than a month after the Feb. 19 pursuit.
Bennett pleaded guilty to a charge of attempted theft by receiving stolen property, a third-degree felony, and failing to respond to an officer's signal to stop, which is also a third-degree felony. The attempted theft by receiving stolen property count was reduced from a second-degree felony charge of theft by receiving stolen property that prosecutors originally leveled against him.
Third District Court Judge Todd Shaughnessy sentenced Bennett to up to five years in state prison for each offense. He allowed the prison sentences to run concurrently. Prosecutors were given 60 days to determine the amount of restitution they will seek in the case.
"We were a little surprised," Summit County Attorney David Brickey said about the guilty pleas on Monday. "He walked in, was very forthcoming with the court."
Brickey said a pleading and a sentencing on a Summit County felony case happens so quickly after an offense perhaps once every 12 to 18 months.
Brickey said he wanted Bennett to serve prison time, saying the judge handed down an "appropriate sentence." He said Bennett has been arrested in Utah at least 10 times and has previously been incarcerated in the state prison system.
David Shapiro, the court-appointed attorney who represented Bennett, declined to discuss the reasoning behind the decision to plead guilty.
"It's what he wanted to do," Shapiro said.
Bennett is incarcerated at the Summit County Jail. He has been held there since his arrest.
Bennett led the authorities on a rare high-speed pursuit through the West Side of Summit County on Feb. 19 and eluded capture the day of the pursuit. He has told investigators he reached up to 130 mph during the pursuit.
The pursuit started as a Summit County Sheriff's Office deputy saw a Nissan Maxima at a gas station along S.R. 224 with a faded temporary tag displayed in the rear window.
The deputy was tailing Bennett when he entered Interstate 80 and then accelerated to approximately 80 mph, a charging document filed against Bennett said. The deputy turned on the siren and activated the overhead lights to pull him over. Bennett did not stop, starting the pursuit.
The Park City Police Department and the Utah Highway Patrol were also involved in the pursuit. Some of the streets involved included S.R. 224, Trailside Drive and Ute Boulevard. It unfolded during the morning rush hour, and many commuters saw part of the chase. Bennett hit another vehicle at one point, damaging the bumper. He swerved to avoid tire spikes put down by a highway patrol trooper.
Bennett left Summit County on Interstate 80 westbound. Troopers from the highway patrol continued the pursuit through Parley's Canyon. Law enforcement, though, stopped the pursuit when Bennett exited onto Foothill Drive, citing safety concerns. The vehicle was later found abandoned in Salt Lake City. It had been reported stolen in the Salt Lake Valley on Feb. 6.
Investigators gathered evidence from the vehicle that led them to a business in Salt Lake City, where they obtained video surveillance of Bennett. A Sheriff's Office lieutenant was looking into further leads in the case in the vicinity of where the vehicle was found and saw a man fitting the description of the suspect. It was Bennett.
The Sheriff's Office later said Bennett told investigators he fled because he did not want to be found in a stolen vehicle.