The video of the shooting was one snapshot of America.
The dashcam of a trailing vehicle captured, albeit distantly, the scene at 60th and L Streets as James Womack descended from the cab of his semitrailer truck, walked across two lanes to the passenger side of a gold pickup truck and confronted the driver who had cut him off.
Faintly, viewers could see him press his palms on the passenger-side window and hear him say words to the effect of “What the (expletive) are you doing?”
He walked back to his truck and started to step onto the ladder to climb into the cab.
Shots rang out from the gold pickup.
Ten seconds of road rage. Two bullets to the back. One man dead.
And Tuesday, a different set of numbers: the gunman, Michael Benson, sentenced to 67 to 89 years in prison for second-degree murder, two weapons counts and two counts of tampering with witnesses.
Under state law, the 26-year-old Omaha native will serve 37½ years before he is eligible for parole. Absent parole, he will be 74 years old before he is released.
Womack’s widow, Ivonne, wanted Benson to get life. She also wants her husband back.
She recalled how people would light up and call out “James!” when he walked into a gathering. In their zest, they then clearly would forget Ivonne’s name.
“It was like ‘James! ... And, uh, um, James’ wife,’ ” she said. “He had this larger-than-life personality.
“He was not just my husband. He was my best friend and the love of my life ... he would do anything for the people he loved.”
Ivonne Womack then talked about another number: 390 million. The estimate of how many guns are in America. The vast majority of them, she said, no doubt belong to law-abiding Americans. But she can’t help but believe that that proliferation of guns made it easy for Benson to get his hands on one, illegally, just two months removed from being paroled.
“It’s ridiculous,” she said. “There’s people who use guns for protection. And there’s people like this guy who use them so they can feel invincible.”
Sign up for World-Herald news alerts
Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.
The case also was a portrait of two black men whose lives had gone in different directions.
James Womack, 32, grew up in New York City, joined the Army, served three tours in Iraq. He followed his wife’s family, devout churchgoers, and began absorbing theology.
Womack and his wife moved across the country, eventually ending up in Washington state. After he retired from the Army, he called a friend who told him about the great schools and great pace of Omaha.
James and Ivonne decided to move their family, including three young children, to Omaha. Womack got a job driving trucks for Hill Brothers. He often worked six days a week.
“He enjoyed every single day of his life,” Ivonne Womack said. “He loved providing for his family. He always tried to make our children feel special.”
Michael Benson grew up in Omaha, without a father in his life and with a mother who couldn’t keep up, said Beau Finley, his court-appointed attorney. Benson ended up in foster care. By age 13, he was abusing marijuana and skipping school. By 15, he simply stopped going to school altogether. By 16, the State of Nebraska allowed him to declare himself an emancipated adult.
Finley noted that he has handled dozens of juvenile court cases in more than two decades of practicing law.
“To think that a 16-year-old can figure things out on his own?” Finley said. “He couldn’t. He went further and further down a path that he ought not to have gone down.”
By 19, he was on his way to prison for dealing crack cocaine.
He spent five years in a Nebraska prison before he was paroled in January 2017. Six months later, the state released him from parole. Two months after that, he and Womack crossed paths.
The chaos of that scene, captured on that dashcam video, mirrored the trauma that Womack’s family has experienced in the 20 months since. The confusion. The desperation.
Which brings us to the most crushing number in this case: 8. That’s how old James and Ivonne Womack’s daughter Jasmine turned the day her father died. The family, including Jasmine’s sister, Jaleesa, and brother, James Jr., had gone out to breakfast that morning to celebrate. It was a day off from school, and they thought about going shopping. But James suggested that they just go home and hang out.
So they did, lounging and playing and climbing on Dad until he went to work for his evening shift, about 3:30 p.m.
Now Jasmine’s birthday is forever associated with her father’s death. Ivonne said she and her children have chosen to stay in Omaha because this is home, and this is where their life as a family really began. She said she and the children have benefited greatly from therapy.
One of the things Jasmine has had to overcome: the gnawing, childlike thought that the shooting was somehow her fault.
“It’s been hard because my daughter thought that it was her fault that her dad died,” Ivonne Womack said. “She felt that she should have told Daddy to just stay home and miss work.”
1 of 46
A former convict was charged with using a drone to attempt to drop marijuana into the Lincoln Correctional Center yard. Read more
A man walking home from work along the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge used a pocket knife to fight off two attackers, sending both to the hospital. Read more
An Omahan was scammed out of $4,800 after trying to buy College World Series tickets. Read more
The Montana man known as the “AK-47 Bandit” who robbed several banks in at least five states, including Nebraska, was sentenced to 35 years in federal prison. Read more
A mall security guard was arrested on suspicion of making terroristic threats after threatening to shoot at suspected shoplifters fleeing in a vehicle. Read more
Travis Fieldgrove, who had sex with a woman who was both his wife and his daughter, was sentenced to two years in prison. Read more
A 28-year-old Omaha man was accused of spanking a 2-year-old girl so hard that she suffered multiple internal injuries. Read more
A man walking in Lincoln was struck in the genitals by a bullet after he dropped a .22-caliber handgun and it discharged. Read more
An 18-year-old man who police say was driving a stolen car was fatally shot by a friend of the car’s owner in Council Bluffs. Read more
A Tecumseh, Nebraska, man shot two former co-workers after they forced their way into his home and tried to fight with him, according to the State Patrol. Read more
A North Carolina man was arrested by Lincoln police after they say he attempted to kidnap a 14-year-old girl and take her to live with him in Wisconsin. Read more
A Shelton woman was driving north on U.S. Highway 281 when a man who’d been kicked out of another vehicle forced his way into her van. The woman, frightened by the man, took her infant and left the vehicle. But the suspect didn’t get far because the key fob remained with the woman. Read more
A staff member at the Tecumseh State Prison was attacked when an inmate’s cell door was mistakenly opened. Read more
A Lincoln man who had ambitions of being a fighter has been arrested on suspicion of assault after authorities say he attacked a pro wrestling great during the Hall of Fame ceremony in New York City. Read more
More than 200 dead cattle and another 200-plus in questionable condition were found on property in Fillmore County, Nebraska, investigators said. Read more
The SUV of an Omaha woman was repeatedly rammed from behind in a Taco Bell drive-thru lane by a man who later got into the woman’s vehicle and drove it into the concrete base around a light pole. Read more
A 17-year-old boy was taken into custody after he took an unloaded 9 mm handgun to school, La Vista police said. Read more
A woman was injured after being put in the trunk of a car that fled police and crashed, police said. The woman had been reported abducted. Read more
A trip to Arby’s for lunch turned into a dangerous road-rage incident in Elkhorn when a driver got out of his car with a handgun and shot the tire on another man’s pickup truck. Read more
A 33-year-old man accused of leading Omaha police officers on a high-speed chase across the city had tried to run over officers, a prosecutor said, before the chase ended at The World-Herald building. Read more
A teenager was sentenced after luring a man for sex and fatally wounding him during a robbery. Read more
DNA helped lead police to man charged in a Guaca Maya slaying. Read more
A former U.S. Air Force counterintelligence specialist who defected to Iran has been charged with revealing classified information to the government in Tehran, including the code name and secret mission of a Pentagon program, prosecutors said. Read more
A masked man shot a clerk inside the Bucky’s convenience store at 30th and Dodge Streets about 3 a.m. She was taken to the Nebraska Medical Center with an injury that wasn’t considered life-threatening. Read more
A 25-year-old man suffered a gunshot wound after he went to confront a 50-year-old man at his home. Read more
An Iowa woman has been charged with five felonies after authorities alleged that she stole $3,535 worth of pull-tab lottery tickets while she worked at a convenience store. Read more
A 33-year-old man accused of cutting his girlfriend with a sword was covered in blood when police arrived at a house in Lincoln. Read more
A parolee is back in jail after punching a man who was a Tinder date for his girlfriend’s friend, according to a court affidavit. Read more
A grenade found in a dumpster in southeast Nebraska was disposed of by Nebraska State Patrol troopers. Read more
A Lincoln man upset that his wife and a friend were talking too loudly as he was trying to get to sleep walked downstairs and pointed a gun at his wife, police said. Read more
DNA evidence led police to issue an arrest warrant in an unsolved 2013 slaying of a Ralston woman. Read more
An Omaha man was arrested after an investigation indicated he had allowed two adult pit bulls to starve to death. Read more
A standoff with Omaha police ended after a man fell off an SUV, where he had been standing and shouting. Read more
Law officers from multiple agencies converged in rural Nebraska on Monday after a man exchanged gunfire twice with officers and escaped from a traffic stop by stealing a sheriff’s vehicle. Read more
An Iowa woman who went to prison for sex with 17-year-old ward of the state said she feels shame and remorse. Read more
The former pharmacy director for Children’s Hospital & Medical Center accused of embezzling more than $4.6 million from the hospital pleaded guilty to wire fraud Monday in U.S. District Court. Read more
A 22-year-old man reportedly drove drunk to the parking lot of the Lancaster County Jail, where his vehicle was spotted weaving and driving over an island. His blood-alcohol content was .172, Lincoln police said. Read more
An injured, naked woman was found outdoors in midtown Omaha on Monday and taken to the Nebraska Medical Center, said Officer Phil Anson, a police spokesman. Read more
A woman has filed a police report accusing Steve LeClair, an Omaha firefighter and the president of the firefighters union, of assaulting her in November. Read more
A Nebraska woman who has been charged with incest told a police officer that she wanted to have sex with her father because of a competition with her half sister to see who could do it first. Read more
Omahan 'rings' in the new year in prison for theft of $629,000 wedding ring. Read more
A club basketball coach who promised weekends of tournaments, personalized jerseys and cookie dough for fundraising took parents’ money and didn’t deliver, authorities say. Read more
Omaha ended 2018 on a high note not seen for decades — no one was criminally slain in Omaha in the final three months of the year. Read more