Trial set in Rifle vehicular manslaughter case
A seven-day trial running from July 26 to Aug. 3 is set for a 31-year-old man who allegedly struck and killed a Carbondale teacher and injured a Colorado State Trooper while traveling on Interstate 70 near Silt last summer.
Officials have charged Jeffrey Burk, who they say was traveling 104 mph at the time of the crash, with three felonies: manslaughter, second-degree assault and felony forgery, for lying about a seizure disorder when he renewed his license, among other crimes.
Investigators say Trooper Charles Hiller pulled over Shaw Lewis, a technology teacher at Ross Montessori School in Carbondale, at about 5:30 p.m. Aug. 16, 2017 near mile marker 94 between Silt and Rifle, just before the time of the crash.
Garfield County officials who investigated the incident said Burk, who has a form of epilepsy, continued to drive after a car accident in which he rear-ended another vehicle in Vail in May 2016.
After that incident, he told police, he had a seizure just before the accident.
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 in 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 a $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 and 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.”
Colorado state law says drivers must move into the left lane when a patrol car has someone pulled over on the right shoulder. The safety campaign came after two Colorado State Patrol Troopers were killed in roadside collisions.
A marked State Patrol car was in the median of I-70 at Mile Marker 94 and Trooper Hiller, who suffered minor injuries from the crash, told investigators that he noticed Lewis’ black Honda continue in the left lane well beyond that point, “despite having ample opportunities to pull over.”
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 witness said the white truck then accelerated dramatically, prompting the witness to ask his passenger, “What is this guy doing?” The passenger told investigators the truck “took off like a … bat out of hell.”
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 10th of a second before its airbags deployed, the affidavit said. No braking was recorded in the five seconds before impact.
In the aforementioned Vail accident months earlier, Burk’s truck rear-ended a car on I-70, requiring the two women in that car to be treated for minor injuries. Burk was being treated for a possible seizure when police arrived and passengers in the truck said they had been in stop-and-go traffic in a construction zone, and Burk suddenly hit the gas hard and was not responsive as they tried to get his attention.
Burk told police he had a history of seizures, he had been getting up early that week, and lack of sleep can exacerbate his condition. He said he had taken his medication that morning. He had gotten the implant two months before, the affidavit said.
The accident investigation also disclosed that Burk was ticketed for careless driving and failure to report an accident in a November 2015 accident in Glenwood Springs. In that incident, a car stopped for traffic in the 900 block of Grand Avenue was rear-ended by Burk’s white Dodge Ram, which left the scene. Burk reportedly told New Castle police when he was stopped that he didn’t know whether to stop or keep driving. He pleaded guilty to careless driving, and the failure to report citation was dropped.
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