Sentencing set in case of Carbondale teacher who was killed on Interstate 70
A sentencing hearing is set for the driver who struck and killed a Carbondale teacher and injured a Colorado State Trooper on Interstate 70 near Silt last summer.
A seven-day trial was initially scheduled for July 26, but Jeffrey Burk, 31, pleaded guilty last month to one count of vehicular homicide and one count of attempt to influence a public servant, both class four felonies. The plea was entered on June 6.
The crimes could carry a possible prison sentence of two to six years; however, 9th District Chief Judge James Boyd could decide probation is more appropriate than confinement.
Burk also pleaded guilty to one count of third-degree assault for injuring a Colorado State Trooper during the wreck, a misdemeanor, which could carry a six months to two years prison sentence.
The crimes could be served consecutively or concurrently, said Zach Parsons, the deputy district attorney handling the case.
A sentencing hearing is scheduled for July 31 at 1 p.m.
Officials say Burk was traveling 104 mph on Aug. 16, 2017, just before the time of the crash. He was originally charged with manslaughter, second-degree assault and felony forgery, for lying about a seizure disorder when he renewed his license.
Investigators say Colorado State Trooper Charles Hiller pulled over Shaw Lewis, a Carbondale technology teacher, at about 5:30 p.m., near mile marker 94, just before the wreck.
Garfield County officials, who investigated the incident, said Burk, who has a form of epilepsy, continued to drive after a car wreck in which he rear-ended another vehicle in Vail in May 2016.
He told police who investigated that incident that he had a seizure just before the crash.
A few months later, court papers say, he renewed his license online and checked a box denying that he had a seizure disorder, an action he vowed wouldn’t interfere with his ability to operate a motor vehicle safely.
“By lying … on his license renewal on July 3, 2017, to obtain a valid license after having the documented accident, he willfully and wantonly continued to disregard the safety of any and all motorists on Aug. 16, 2017, by operating his 2009 Dodge pickup,” Garfield County investigator Brian Sutton wrote when seeking a warrant for Burk’s arrest.
Burk turned himself in at Garfield County Jail after an arrest warrant was issued in September. He has remained free on $100,000 bond since.
Burk again told authorities that he felt a seizure starting shortly before the crash that killed Lewis, who lived in Rifle with his wife, and two children.
“I was on the interstate going about 76 mph,” Burk wrote at the accident scene, according to a court affidavit.
“I felt a small seizure happening, so I scanned with my magnet, head & chest. Saw the cop in the median and slowed to 70 mph. Remember going a little further. Then waking up and wondering why my truck was beat up.”
According to the affidavit, state patrol was conducting an operation that evening, “focusing on move-over law violators,” which is why Lewis had been pulled over.
Colorado state law says drivers must move into the left lane when a patrol car has someone pulled over on the right shoulder, in lieu of the two previous Colorado State Patrol Troopers who were killed in roadside collisions.
Trooper Hiller, who pulled over Lewis, had his head inside the passenger window of the Honda when, he told investigators, Burk’s white Dodge Ram smashed into the driver’s side of the car, killing Lewis immediately.
A witness said he saw the white truck pass him and then slow down to match his speed at about 70 mph after passing Trooper Hiller in the median.
The passenger described the pickup moving smoothly to the right shoulder, then veering as it came upon Hiller’s patrol car. The passenger said she didn’t see the trooper until he was “flying” into the grass, and reported “being very surprised to see the trooper stand up,” the affidavit said.
Subsequent investigation showed that Burk’s Ram struck the left front of the patrol car and then plowed into Shaw’s Honda.
A data recorder in the pickup showed its speed to be 104 mph a tenth of a second before its airbags deployed, the affidavit said.
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Despite nearly a month of intense investigation by two APD detectives, two investigators with the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office and help from an FBI agent in Glenwood Springs, the case is progressing slowly.