Truck driver in deadly I-75 crash wanted on drug charge in Wisconsin

Ben Brewer is shown in this booking photo from Janesville, Wis.

Police in Wisconsin suspected Benjamin Scott Brewer may have been selling drugs when they arrested him on one count of possession of a prescription drug in 2013.

The 39-year-old truck driver is under investigation after Chattanooga police say he drove a tractor-trailer into several vehicles near Exit 11 on Interstate 75 in a massive crash that killed six people Thursday.

Brewer was cited for careless driving in Florida on Wednesday, a day before wrecking in Chattanooga, and he is wanted on an active warrant in Janesville, Wis., on the 2013 drug charge. In that case, he posted a $250 bond and missed his May 20, 2013, court date.

Brewer was arrested in Janesville after he tried to fill a Florida prescription for a 28-day supply of oxycodone on April 11, 2013, according to a Janesville police incident report. The pharmacist thought the request was suspicious and called police.

photo Nine-vehicle crash on Interstate 75 in Ooltewah, Tenn.
photo Ben Brewer is shown in this booking photo from Janesville, Wis.

Brewer consented to a search, and Janesville police discovered that he had four pills of gabapentin - a prescription medication - without a prescription. The truck driver told police he'd been seeing a doctor in Murfreesboro, Tenn., for back pain after a trucking accident. He said that doctor unexpectedly closed his doors so he had to go to a doctor in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to obtain a prescription for the oxycodone.

He told police that he and another man had obtained prescriptions in Florida, then driven to London, Ky. - where Brewer lives - before driving to Wisconsin to fill the prescriptions. In addition to the prescription for oxycodone, Brewer also had a prescription for extra-strength ibuprofen, according to the incident report.

Gabapentin is used as an anti-seizure medication and also can help control pain, said Josh DeVine, spokesman for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. It's an up-and-coming drug - one that's not yet formally tracked as part of Tennessee's Controlled Substance Monitoring Database - but still growing in popularity on the street, he said.

"This is a drug that is on our radar at TBI," DeVine said. "[But] basically at this point, the evidence we have that speaks to the spikes of use and abuse - not just in Tennessee but on a national scale - is largely anecdotal in nature."

Police also examined Brewer's phone during the April 2013 arrest and discovered multiple text message conversations that looked to be about drug transactions, according to the incident report. One conversation between Brewer and a "Jerry Baker" read like this:

"How are you doing driver."

"I'm doing alright, I was getting ready to call you."

"Pink 10 for $7 or gen .5 for $3."

"That's not bad but I don't know if they would do me any good when I'm used to them 30's."

The arresting officer confiscated both the gabapentin pills and the prescription for oxycodone because he suspected Brewer was planning to sell any oxycodone pills he obtained, according to the report. Brewer denied planning to sell the pills.

Chattanooga police confirmed Tuesday that crash investigators were aware of the open warrant against Brewer. Because the possession charge is a misdemeanor - punishable by a $500 fine and no more than six months in jail - Brewer cannot be extradited to Wisconsin.

Brewer has not been charged in connection with Thursday's I-75 wreck and has returned to Kentucky. Investigators took a sample of his blood at the scene of the crash to be tested for drugs and alcohol.

Police said Tuesday that investigators from the police department and the National Transportation Safety Board are still working to pull data from each vehicle's crash recorder in order to determine crucial details about what happened in the seconds leading up to impact.

Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at 423-757-6525 or with tips or story ideas.