Nevada Highway Patrol Sgt. Benjamin Michael Jenkins’ life, cut short at just 47, was defined by a serious devotion to public service.
By the time of his death in March, when he was shot and killed in the line of duty by someone he believed was a stranded motorist, he already had earned the titles military veteran, firefighter, EMT and law enforcement officer. What else could he have accomplished if he’d had 50 more years, his family and friends wondered on Wednesday during a three-hour memorial service at Elko High School, from which Jenkins graduated in 1991.
The Elko native’s celebration of life had been delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Described by the Nevada Department of Public Safety as a hero’s send-off, the service began at 9:30 a.m. with a roughly half-hour procession from a funeral home to the high school.
“What happened to Ben was not fair or just,” Highway Patrol Col. Daniel Solow said Wednesday at the start of the service. “Sgt. Jenkins was stolen from us, and it is a tragedy of the deepest, most painful kind. Why him?”
Shot in the line of duty
Just before dawn on March 27 — a cold, dark Friday morning — Jenkins was shot multiple times after stopping on a remote stretch of U.S. Highway 93 to check on a driver pulled over north of Ely. Jenkins radioed in that he’d been shot and died before backup arrived.
It marked the Highway Patrol’s first death in the line of duty in more than a decade.
He is survived by his mother; wife, Jodi; children Jessica Quaintance, Michael, Ashlie and Cody; grandchildren Payson Quaintance and Xander Redd, Aydin, Devynn and Aspyn; and brother, Thomas.
“Bravery is a quality of heroes as is a sense of duty, compassion, caring and caring for your fellow man,” George Togliatti, director of the Department of Public Safety, said during the service. “Ben didn’t hesitate to extend his hand that morning in March without regard for his personal safety.”
Jenkins was born on Dec. 22, 1972, in San Diego to Thomas and Janyce Jenkins but was raised in Elko. Growing up, Jenkins could oftentimes be found riding his bike around his hometown, fishing for bass at the Ruby Lake Wildlife Refuge or playing baseball. He loved the outdoors and in his freetime went fishing, hiking, camping and boating.
After his high school graduation, Jenkins joined the military, building a foundation for what would become a lifelong career as a public servant. He honorably served in both the Army National Guard and Air National Guard, reaching the rank of sergeant first class in the Army Guard.
Jenkins then went on to work as a training officer for the Nevada State Fire Marshal Division, a crew supervisor for the Nevada Division of Forestry and an assistant fire chief for the Spring Creek Volunteer Fire Department. In all, he’d spent more than a decade working as a firefighter, battling wildfires and even volunteering at Burning Man for 15 years. For Jenkins, his work during the annual cultural festival was an opportunity to meet and connect with people from different backgrounds.
‘Finally found his calling’
In 2009, Jenkins “finally found his calling as a law enforcement officer,” said his youngest son, Cody, when he was studying to become a fire investigator for the Department of Public Safety and was instead hired by the Highway Patrol division as a trooper in Jackpot.
Jenkins was promoted to sergeant in Elko in 2017 and had hoped to retire by around 2023 to spend more time with his grandchildren — characterized on Wednesday by Cody as “the apples of his eye.”
Through his work with the Highway Patrol, Jenkins became passionate about reducing impaired driving and fatal crashes. And in 2011, he was honored with the Department of Public Safety’s highest honor, the Gold Medal of Valor, for his actions when he and other officers came under fire during a domestic-related shooting in Wells.
In the shooting, an Elko County sheriff’s deputy was critically wounded, and while still under fire, Jenkins and one other law enforcement officer pulled the wounded deputy to safety.
Known across the board for his compassionate and caring nature, he will be remembered in the law enforcement community as a driven man who took his work seriously.
“If he pulled over his mother, he would give her a ticket,” said Charlie Myers, his uncle.
But at home with his family, Myers said, he was “very lighthearted.”
Any time Tim McGraw’s song, “My Little Girl,” came on, he would take the hand of his youngest daughter, Ashlie, and sing to her.
“Go on, take on this old world,” he would sing off-key, “but to me, you know you’ll always be my little girl.”
During the service, the Highway Patrol announced it had officially retired Jenkins’ patrol number, H-4196, as of Wednesday.
Speaking into a portable radio, Jenkins’ supervisor, Capt. James Simpson, requested a 10-42 for Jenkins, a code that signals the end of duty for an officer.
There was silence. And then, momentarily halting all radio traffic for the Highway Patrol, a dispatcher said: “Attention all troopers, attention all troopers. Sgt. Benjamin Jenkins, badge No. Henry 4-1-9-6, a true public servant. May he rest in peace.”
Her voice breaking, the dispatcher continued: “Henry 4-1-9-6, final 4-2 at 12:33.”
Just then, a helicopter appeared overhead in Jenkins’ honor, cutting through the fierce blue sky above Elko, the community he loved and served for more than 21 years.
The murder case
Prosecutors believe the suspect in Sgt. Ben Jenkins’ killing, identified by authorities as Ruth resident John Dabritz, opened fire because he wanted to “avoid or prevent” his arrest in connection with a series of shootings earlier that morning in Wells and Ely, according to court documents.
Dabritz, 66, was arrested hours after the shooting in the small town of Cherry Creek. Criminal proceedings in the murder case have been on hold since late April, when Dabritz was ordered by a judge to undergo a competency evaluation and psychiatric treatment. If convicted of first-degree murder, Dabritz could be sentenced to death.