On December 27th 2018, the Eureka Police Department was contacted by the Napa County Coroner’s Office regarding the death investigation of Bernhard Craig Bertain, known to his family and friends as Ben. Ben’s family had notified the coroner that Ben had been in a fight in the Burre Center area of Eureka. A search of EPD records revealed that on December 22nd, 2018 a fight was reported in the Burre Center. At the time, Ben declined medical treatment and contact by police. A search of the vicinity was conducted for the suspect but officers were unable to locate anyone matching the description.
A Detective was assigned to the investigation and traveled to Napa to conduct follow-up.
During the investigation we learned that on December 25th, 2018, Humboldt State University Police received a 911 call from Ben asking for an ambulance due to having trouble breathing. Ben was located in Arcata and transported to Mad River Hospital where he was flown to Queen of the Valley Hospital (QVH) for a higher level of care. Ben passed away after arriving at the QVH. Napa County Coroner’s office was contacted by QVH for a coroner’s case on December 26, 2018.
Through the investigation we learned that on December 22nd at approximately 0901 hours, a heated verbal argument took place in the Burre Center that was witnessed by an employee of a business in the center. The employee went outside and placed herself between the male, later identified as Jason Barnes (46 of Eureka), and the female, in an attempt to get the Barnes to leave the property. Barnes refused to leave and continued yelling at the female and the employee. Ben, who had been sitting in his vehicle observing the altercation, exited his truck and stood next to the employee. Ben tried to convince Barnes to leave the property. During this exchange Barnes struck Ben with the edge of a skateboard deck. Barnes then fled the area. Ben finished what he was doing at the Burre Center and then left.
On July 5th 2019, the Detective investigating Ben’s death received the full Medical Examiner’s report from Napa. The Medical Examiner’s report indicated the cause of death to be homicide resulting from injuries Ben suffered during the assault by Barnes.
On July 15th 2019, Jason Barnes was booked for homicide and is being held on one-million-dollar bond. Barnes was already housed at the Humboldt County Correctional Facility as he has been in custody on unrelated charges since June 26, 2019.
This was a tragic situation that resulted from a concerned citizen, Ben Bertain, intervening into a situation to stop what he recognized as a heated verbal alteration that likely was going to turn into a physical assault. This level of intervention is not uncommon in our community but the outcome this time resulted in the loss of a life. 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.
The Eureka Police Department would like to thank the officers and staff of the Humboldt State University along with Arcata Police Department and the Napa County Coroner’s office for their assistance with this investigation.
If anyone has any information regarding this investigation you are asked to contact Detective Corrie Watson at 707-441-4032.