Manslaughter charge: Driver hit teacher’s car at 104 mph; had lied about seizures
A pickup truck was traveling 104 mph when it struck a Carbondale teacher’s car last month on Interstate 70 near Silt, killing the teacher and sending a state trooper flying into grass alongside the road.
The pickup driver, Jeffrey Burk, 31, of New Castle, was arrested last week on charges including manslaughter and second-degree assault, both of which are class 4 felonies; and felony forgery for lying about a seizure disorder when he renewed his driver’s license, among other charges.
Garfield County authorities, who investigated the Aug. 16 crash because the Colorado State Patrol was involved, allege that Burk, who has a form of epilepsy, continued to drive after having an injury accident in Vail in May 2016 during which, he told police, he had a seizure. A few months later, an affidavit says, he renewed his license online and checked a box denying that he had a seizure disorder “that would interfere with your 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 to the Garfield County Jail after a warrant was issued Friday, the Garfield County Sheriff’s office said Monday. He was released on $100,000 bond.
Burk, according to the affidavit, has a medical implant in his head to help fight his seizures. His parents told investigators that the implant was meant to wean him off medication that made him feel bad, and had helped reduce his seizures. He worked full-time in New Castle.
Burk told authorities that he felt a seizure starting shortly before the crash that killed Shaw Lewis, a teacher at Ross Montessori school in Carbondale 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 the 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, the state patrol was conducting an operation that afternoon “focusing on move-over law violators.”
A marked state patrol car was in the median of I-70 at Mile Marker 94. Trooper Charles Hiller, who suffered minor injuries in 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 pulled over Lewis and 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 of about 70 mph after they passed the trooper parked in the median. 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, 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. No braking was recorded in the 5 seconds before impact.
In the Vail accident 15 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. 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, 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.