Montana Fire Marshal Charged After Intoxicated Man Dies

January 17, 2013

A Montana fire marshal has been charged with negligent endangerment after an investigation found he was pushing an intoxicated bar patron home in a chair with casters on it when the man was thrown from the chair and landed face-first on the sidewalk, causing a fatal head injury.

Great Falls fire marshal, Doug Bennyhoff, 50, also was charged Monday with obstructing a police officer. He is scheduled to appear in Justice Court on Feb. 4.

The man, Orville “Lee” Jones, 62, was injured Sept. 15 and died six days later.

The sequence of events that led to Jones’ death apparently began when a police officer found Jones lying on the ground across the street from a casino, intoxicated but uninjured, an affidavit of probable cause said. Bennyhoff told the police officer he would take care of Jones.

Witnesses told investigators they watched Bennyhoff wheel Jones at “practically a run” across Central Avenue West in an effort to get Jones home. Witnesses said Bennyhoff refused offers of assistance.

When Bennyhoff reached the other side of the street, he turned down a sidewalk and Jones was thrown from the chair, landing face-first, witnesses said. Jones appeared to be passed out, witnesses said.

Bennyhoff tried to pick him up and put him back in the chair. A witness heard Bennyhoff say, “Come on, you’re making this difficult,” the affidavit said.

Eventually Bennyhoff and others took Jones up to his apartment.

A witness told investigators that he was dumbfounded by Bennyhoff’s lack of action immediately following the injury, court records said.

Bennyhoff called 911, but sought only non-emergency medical response and told a dispatcher that Jones fell on his own, the witness said.

Great Falls Fire/Rescue engineer Timothy Harris said by the time they were loading Jones into an ambulance he had lost his grip response and Harris believed he would require surgery. After a scan at the hospital, doctors felt the injury was not survivable, court records said.

Hospital records indicate doctors, including Jones’ neurosurgeon, were told that Jones had fallen and did not know he had been thrown from a moving chair, court records said.

The case was investigated by the state Division of Criminal Investigation.

A phone listing for Bennyhoff in Great Falls could not be found. His attorney, Kenneth Olson, declined comment Tuesday.

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