PORTLAND — A man from Gray has been charged in a fatal assault on a 24-year-old Westbrook man during the weekend.

Portland police say they identified William Googins, 20, as the man wearing a yellow shirt, baggy jeans and a hip-hop style hat who fought with Eric Benson early Sunday. Googins turned himself in Monday afternoon and now faces a charge of aggravated assault. He is being held at Cumberland County Jail on $50,000 cash bail.

Benson was a Westbrook High School graduate who was studying geochemistry at the University of Maine in Farmington, with plans eventually to hunt for oil. He would have graduated in December.

His family and friends described him as a man of conviction, someone who stood by his friends and sought to cheer them up when they were down.

Benson, a car and racing enthusiast, helped start Maine’s Subaru fan club, Maine Subies, and was overhauling his prized 1993 Subaru Legacy SS.

“He was so excited when he got that car,” said his twin brother, Andrew Benson, of the gray and white vehicle. “I was like, ‘This thing is hideous,’ but he loved it anyway.”

Eric Benson and many friends had been out for the evening, and had just split up.

Benson and a woman who worked with him at the Lowe’s store in Portland were walking through Monument Square shortly before 1:30 a.m. when they encountered Googins and two friends who had been drinking at several bars in the Old Port, police said.

The men directed some derogatory comments at the woman, which made her feel threatened, police said, and after a brief exchange between the two parties, Googins punched Benson.

No weapon was used, but police say the single punch knocked Benson unconscious and he fell on the brick plaza.

The woman screamed, and as witnesses responded, the men ran. When police arrived, witnesses were talking to emergency dispatchers and doing CPR. Benson was taken to Maine Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead shortly before noon Sunday.

The investigation, which included canvassing businesses for surveillance pictures and video, led police to identify Googins and his companions. The two friends have been cooperative and were not charged, police said.

When Googins learned that police were looking for him, he turned himself in at the station at 4 p.m. Monday, accompanied by family members.

“We believe this is a completely random attack,” Assistant Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said at a news conference Monday. “Googins is not talking, so we can’t pin a motive to this.”

Googins has a long juvenile record, including arrests for assault, authorities said.

The district attorney will review the case to determine whether more serious charges than aggravated assault should be brought, Sauschuck said.

Benson’s brother said he hopes the system will work.

“I won’t ever get enough satisfaction for (him) taking my brother away. … If I can get some sort of closure from this, it would be nice,” Andrew Benson said.

The identical twins were the oldest in a family of five children.

Another brother and a sister are students at Gorham High School, and another sister attends college in Vermont.

The family is well known in Westbrook, where the twins were in the high school’s perennially high-caliber marching band before graduating in 2005.

Eric Benson played the baritone saxophone and was a member of the squad that performed at the Fiesta Bowl in Arizona in 2003.

“He wasn’t the kind to go out and get into somebody’s face, but he would stand up for what he believed in,” said his brother, who was not sure what happened leading up to the altercation.

After Eric Benson was injured, friends went to the hospital. The family was soon moved from a small waiting room to the largest waiting area in the intensive care unit. Soon, that room was overflowing with close to two dozen well-wishers, Andrew Benson said.
Holly Benson, 22, said her brother “loved life and lived it to the fullest.”

“We are so grateful to have had him as long as we did,” she said.

Adam Roy of Portland was working Saturday night as a deejay at the Cactus Club on Fore Street and saw Benson before the attack.

“He looked fine, very normal, very pleasant – his usual self,” said Roy, who was the senior class president of Westbrook High and graduated with Benson.

“He’s not the kind of kid to pick a fight,” Roy said.

Bill Moss attended UMaine at Farmington with Benson and was program director at the college radio station, where Benson was a deejay.

“All around one of the nicest, kindest guys I know, to be honest,” Moss said.

Even though there were no job openings at one point at a computer support center run by the university, Benson would show up and help people for free.

Westbrook High School Principal Marc Gousse remembers Benson as an outgoing student, devoted to playing in the band and studying automotive technology.

“His interest groups and peer groups transcended a lot of different people in a lot of different groups. I think that’s what made him special,” Gousse said.

The state medical examiner planned an autopsy Monday but a spokeswoman said she could release nothing about the results until today.

The arrest was swift, given that random crimes are often harder to solve than those in which the attacker and the victim have a relationship.

Police Lt. Gary Rogers said there were people who provided police with a description of the attacker.

Police say it is rare for an unarmed assailant to kill someone in a brief fight. A decade ago, during New Year’s celebrations in Monument Square, a fight killed a man when he fell to the pavement unconscious and hit his head on the brick.

Andrew Benson said the randomness of Sunday’s attack changed his view of Portland. “I’m definitely not going to be caught out in the Old Port after dark,” he said.

After Eric Benson died, his father drove his Subaru home.

His brother Andrew said that as a tribute, he and family members will complete the overhaul on the car Eric Benson planned this summer to make it ready to race.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey and the Morning Sentinel contributed to this report.

Staff Writer David Hench can be reached at 791-6327 or at:  [email protected]