The Eureka Police Department announced Monday that it had booked a Eureka man suspected of homicide stemming from a December 2018 fight with a Southern Humboldt resident.
Eureka police booked 49-year-old Jason Ryan Barnes on suspicion of homicide related to the death of Bernhard “Ben” Bertain. Barnes was already in custody at the county jail on an unrelated matter when the arrest warrant was issued. He remains in custody but now he faces a bail amount of $1 million.
On the morning of Dec. 22, 2018,Barnes was confronted by an employee at a business in the Burre Center during an altercation with a woman, according to Eureka police. While the employee placed herself between Barnes and the woman, Bertain exited his pickup truck to assist.
At one point, Barnes allegedly swung a skateboard at Bertain and struck him. At the time, Bertain declined any medical treatment and police reported he left the scene. Barnes fled the scene as well and police were unable to locate him during a search of the immediate area.
Ben Bertain would speak with one of his cousins in the minutes following the altercation, according to local attorney Bill Bertain, who is a relative of Ben Bertain.
“Ben contacted his cousin. They were close friends and, from what I understand, Ben probably saved that woman’s life,” said Bill Bertain. “I’m a Catholic and Christ teaches us that man hath no greater love than he lay down his life for another.”
While announcing Barnes’ arrest, Eureka police urged the public not to directly involve themselves in others’ disputes, but to contact law enforcement.
“This level of intervention is not uncommon in our community but the outcome this time resulted in the loss of a life,” a press release from the EPD said. “This tragic event should serve as a reminder to the citizens of Humboldt that it is almost always safer to observe and report when you witness a crime or potential crime that is about to occur.”
Three days after the altercation, Ben Bertain called 911 to report trouble breathing. He was taken to Mad River Community Hospital and then flown to an out-of-area hospital in Napa for “a higher level of care,” according to Eureka police. While at Queen of the Valley Hospital in Napa, Ben Bertain died as a result of the injuries he sustained in the fight.
The Napa County Coroner’s Office opened a case and an autopsy was performed although according to Henry Wofford, spokesperson for the Napa County Sheriff’s Office.
“The (specific) cause of death is pending,” Wofford said Monday. “We can confirm the identification of the victim but details related to the manner and cause of death will not be released because we are not the agency investigating the incident.”
The Napa Coroner’s report did indicate “the cause of death was homicide resulting from injuries Ben suffered during the assault with Barnes,” according to information from EPD.
Barnes has nearly a dozen criminal cases on file at the county courthouse including pleas of no contest for assault and burglary. He’s been arrested for driving without a valid license.
Barnes was last arrested in June and was scheduled to be in court for a revocation of probation hearing July 22. Instead, Barnes will next appear in court for an arraignment on the homicide charge, which must be done no later than Thursday morning.
Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.