Vermont Driver Is Charged With Aggravated Murder in Fatal Crash That Killed a Police Officer

Vermont Driver Is Charged With Aggravated Murder in Fatal Crash That Killed a Police Officer
File photo of police tape. (Jeff Dean/AFP via Getty Images)

A Vermont man accused of killing a 19-year-old police officer in a head-on crash during a pursuit in Rutland last summer pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a new elevated charge of aggravated murder.

Tate Rheaume was ordered held without bail pending an evidence hearing. Rutland City Police Officer Jessica Ebbighausen, who was not wearing a seatbelt and was thrown from the cruiser, was pronounced dead at the scene July 7, 2023.

Rheaume was “engaged in extraordinarily dangerous driving” at speeds of more than 80 mph (129 kph) while also moving in and out of traffic, before the fatal crash, Rutland County State’s Attorney Ian Sullivan said.

“Mr. Rheaume had driven into oncoming traffic where two police vehicles, they were fully marked cruisers with their lights illuminated, causing the collision. From our perspective that is the basis to conclude that the evidence of guilt is great for the life offense,” Sullivan said.

According to a police affidavit, the pursuit started after Rheaume, 20, broke into the home of an ex-girlfriend with whom he has two children. Concerned about his mental state, she had taken the children to her grandmother’s house, but her boyfriend called police after seeing security camera footage of Rheaume at their home.

Rheume told investigators he did not pull over before the fatal crash because getting arrested would hurt his chances of joining the Marines, according to court documents.

At the site of the collision, he was traveling at between 76 and 82 mph (122 and 132 kph) on a road posted with a speed limit of 35 mph (56 kph), Sullivan said. He struck two police cruisers. Two other officers and Rheaume were taken to Rutland Regional Medical Center with injuries and Rheaume was transferred to the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington, police said at the time.

“Mr. Rheaume was actively fleeing from law enforcement at the time he committed the aggravated murder,” Sullivan said in arguing he should be held without bail.

Rheaume’s lawyer, Sean Milligan, said Rheaume is neither a flight risk nor a danger, evidenced by his compliance with strict conditions of release, his appearance in court and lack of a criminal record. But the judge said the new charge, which carries a sentence of life without parole, raises the flight risk. He also said Rheaume has already been charged with fleeing police.

Ebbighausen, of Ira, Vermont, started working with the Rutland Police Department in May of 2023 as a part-time officer, state police said. She was scheduled to start training in August of last year at the Vermont Police Academy to become a full-time officer, police said.

By Lisa Rathke

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