URBANA, Ill. (WCIA) — A Potomac man has been sentenced to 38 years in prison for shooting at a Champaign County Sheriff’s deputy nearly two years ago.
John Bennett pleaded guilty to a charge of aggravated discharge of a firearm, a crime that carries a maximum of 45 years in prison. Champaign County State’s Attorney Julia Rietz recommended a 38-year-sentence, which Judge Randy Rosenbaum agreed to.
“He has a relatively low criminal history, and he did plead guilty, ultimately,” Rietz said. “And so, when we make a sentencing recommendation, we take that into account. And the judge took that into account as well.”
The charge and prosecution stems from an incident on Feb. 21, 2021, that started near the intersection of Cunningham Avenue and Kenyon Road in Urbana. Sheriff’s Deputy Chelsey Keyes saw a car fail to use its turn signal and pulled it over. At that time, Bennett was a passenger while his girlfriend was the driver; Bennett did not cooperate during the traffic stop.
A K-9 unit inspected the car and alerted Keyes of a substance. As Keyes was putting the K-9 back in her squad car, Bennett’s girlfriend sped away toward Interstate 74.
Rietz said Keyes pursued the car onto the highway. After getting onto the highway, Bennett leaned out the window of his girlfriend’s car and fired at Keye’s squad car. Sheriff Dustin Heuerman believed that eight rounds were fired in in three distinct bursts.
Keyes wasn’t hurt, but this was the second time she had been shot at. In 2020, she pulled over a different car in Thomasboro for a traffic stop and that driver fired shots at her; she was not hurt in that shooting either. The driver received a 20-year prison sentence.
“She’s really the only officer that I’m aware of that we’ve ever had here in Champaign County who’s been shot at twice,” Rietz said. “She continues to serve and she’s a fine deputy, and so we very much value her and are absolutely lucky and happy that she came out of both of these situations, both physically and emotionally intact and safe.”
The chase involving Bennett ultimately led other deputies from Champaign County and Illinois State Troopers to become involved. Vermilion County Sheriff’s deputies also joined the pursuit when it entered that county.
During the chase, 911 dispatchers received a call from Bennett’s girlfriend who said he was threatening to shoot her if she did not stop. The car was eventually brought to a stop on Illinois Route 49 after the tires were blown out using a spike strip. Bennett’s girlfriend got out of the car, but Bennett refused to get out of the car and threatened to kill himself, starting a three-hour standoff.
“There was a lot of concern, obviously, about officer safety, the safety of the other individuals involved, in public safety,” Rietz said. “So ultimately, they were able to get him out of the car and take him into custody. And no one was significantly hurt from the incident, but it was obviously very dangerous.”
Rietz said when police searched the car, they found an AR-15 assault rifle equipped with a scope and a 30-round magazine; there were 21 unfired bullets still inside the magazine and a loose round Bennett unloaded from the gun’s chamber when he surrendered. Deputies also found a glass pipe with methamphetamine residue inside.
Rietz said she hopes that Bennett’s prosecution will deter others from committing such an act in the future.
“Focusing on Mr. Bennett, clearly he is a very dangerous individual. When we are looking at this situation, we’re looking at gun violence, we’re also looking at substance use, very serious substance use. He also had mental health issues that needed to be addressed before we could actually get to the sentencing hearing portion,” Rietz said. “And so, the message here is that if somebody is a danger to the community and responds to law enforcement by using violence, those offenses are going to be taken very seriously by my office and by the judge who made the sentencing decision.”
Rietz also commended the additional sheriff’s deputies who took Bennett into custody.
“I think it’s a demonstration of very good law enforcement actions. Many other officers became involved in this situation, they were able to get the car stopped and negotiate Mr. Bennett out of the car without anyone getting hurt,” Rietz said. “And you know, I think that is a significant message to the quality, the training, the good work done by our law enforcement officers here in Champaign County as well as in Vermillion County. We should be very proud of them and the work that they do.”