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Burkett always wanted to be a police man

February 01, 2001

Burkett always wanted to be a police man



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg
see also: W.Va. deputy dies in head-on crash in Pa.


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County Sheriff's Deputy John Lewis Burkett was a young man who loved his job, according to his family and friends.

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Being a law enforcement officer "was his thing in life," said his father, John Burkett, Jr. "He bided his time until he got it."

Burkett, 28, was commissioned a police officer Jan. 18, 2000, after taking classes at the state police academy required of all officers. He died Wednesday in a crash on Interstate 81 in Franklin County, Pa., as he was helping return a prisoner from Pennsylvania to Berkeley County.

"He always wanted to be a police officer," said Rich Hayes Sr., 49, of Falling water, a former corrections officer who said he was one of Burkett's best friends.

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Berkeley County lowered its flags to half staff Wednesday evening and six county buildings were to be draped in black today.

Berkeley County Commission Chairman Howard Strauss asked all those flying flags in the county to lower them out of respect for Burkett and his family.

"I would like the flags lowered because I want everyone to know that we are in mourning for Officer Burkett," said Strauss.

Berkeley County Clerk John Small and County Commissioner John Wright said they believe Burkett was the first Berkeley County sheriff's deputy to die in the line of duty.

Lt. Cheryl Henry Keller, a 24-year-veteran with the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department, confirmed that Burkett was the first member of the department to die while on the job.

"This is a devastating time for the police community. This is hard," she said. "Any time we lose a police officer the police community suffers."

"He was a a nice, quiet, sincere guy," said Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely.

Burkett grew up in Berkeley County, attended Hedgesville Elementary School and graduated in 1990 from Hedgesville High School, where his father said he played soccer.

He was living in Falling Waters with his parents. He was unmarried and had no children. He has a sister, Rebecca,

A high school classmate, Cindy Murphy, then Cindy Allport, remembered Burkett from their school days.

"We were in ROTC together our freshman year," she said. "He was very smart, very intelligent, very easy-going."

After leaving high school, he earned an associate's degree in criminal justice from Glenville State College. Hayes said he also took classes at Shepherd College and West Virginia University.

Burkett held a variety of jobs in the 1990s, working in security, for a cabinet maker in Fairmont, W. Va., and at the Coast Guard office in Berkeley County.

"He left us to pursue a career with the state police," said Phil Steorts, who worked a night security shift with Burkett at the Coast Guard office. "He was pleasant to work with. He had a lot on the ball."

Hayes said he can remember the many hours they spent together, and his qualities as a friend.

"There wasn't anything he wouldn't do for me if I needed it, and vice versa," Hayes said. "And he always wanted to help people."

"He had a love for life, but he was very mellow," Hayes said.

Hayes said Burkett loved to travel, loved music, "but he couldn't sing a note," loved the outdoors and loved to hunt. He also "liked knowledge. He wanted to know everything. He just loved life," Hayes said.

Both Wright and Strauss said the community has suffered a deep loss.

"I certainly, on the part of the commissioners, extend our deepest sympathies and that of the community, to the family," he said. "We appreciate what our deputy sheriff's do."

Murphy said the loss will be hard.

"It's just tragic when you lose somebody like that," she said.

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