Man with loaded gun, three others charged after off-roading at site of fatal accident


BURRILLVILLE – A Massachusetts man, who police say was intoxicated and in possession of a loaded gun, is facing felony charges after he was caught as a passenger in a Jeep that was off-roading on private property.

Three additional men, including one in possession of an unloaded weapon, are also facing charges related to the incident.

The arrests come just six days after a 29-year-old man died from his injuries after being ejected from a Jeep off-roading at the same sand pit, according to police.

Benjamin Eldridge, 23, of Dudley, Mass. faces charges of carrying a weapon while intoxicated, possession of an unlicensed weapon, possession of a loaded weapon and willful trespass following his arrest on Saturday, Jan. 9.

Michael Blanchard, 23, of Dudley, also faces charges of possession of an unlicensed weapon, along with the lesser count of willful trespass. Two additional men in their early 20s from Southbridge, Mass. received misdemeanor charges of willful trespass.

According to reports, police responding to the area around 10:30 p.m., “located a convoy of three vehicles traveling along Wilson Trail, after having just traversed the same hill within the sand pit that our agency had a fatal rollover from the prior weekend.”

One of the three Jeeps changed direction and avoided police.

Eldridge, the passenger in one of two Jeeps that stopped for officers, was carrying a loaded .380 Ruger handgun and appeared to be under the influence of alcohol, according to police.

Blanchard, the driver of the second Jeep, had a 9mm handgun, which was not loaded but was stored with the ammunition.

Both men reportedly had licenses for the weapons in Massachusetts, but not Rhode Island.

Eldridge agreed to sobriety tests, “where he was ultimately suspected of being under the combined influence of alcohol and drugs,” according to his arrest report. He and Blanchard were taken into custody.

The arrests took place in the woods by property owned by the Boy Scouts of America organization. On Sunday, Jan. 3, 29-year-old man from Plymouth, Mass. was was taken by life flight to UMass Medical Center in Worcester after he was ejected from a Jeep while off-roading in an unrelated incident by the same sand pit, just by the Connecticut line.

Zuniga died from his injuries at the Massachusetts hospital.

Eldridge and Blanchard were brought before a bail commissioner and released on a summons to appear in 6th District Court at a later date.

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