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W.Va. deputies plan fallen comrade's funeral

February 01, 2001

W.Va. deputies plan fallen comrade's funeral



By BOB PARTLOW / Staff Writer, Martinsburg


MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A solemn group of Berkeley County Sheriff's Office deputies and employees prepared to honor one of their own Saturday, as arrangements for the funeral of Deputy John L. Burkett III were finalized Thursday.

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Burkett, 28, of Falling Waters, W.Va., was critically injured in an accident on Interstate 81 in Franklin County, Pa., Wednesday afternoon as he and another officer were transporting a prisoner from Pennsylvania to Berkeley County. Burkett was pronounced dead at Chambersburg Hospital about an hour after the 3 p.m. accident.

A vehicle driven by Lance Parkins, 19, of Chambersburg, Pa., was northbound in the southbound lanes and collided with the Berkeley County cruiser.

Burkett is the first deputy sheriff to die on duty in the county's history.

Injured in the accident were Transportation Officer Joseph Miller, 58; prisoner Gary Lynn Moser, 44, of Waynesboro, Pa., and Lance S. Parkins, 19, of 151 Sandy Circle in Chambersburg, Pa., whom police identified as the driver of a 1990 Subaru.

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The mood at the Sheriff's Office was described as solemn and subdued by Sheriff Randy Smith and others Thursday as they worked to put together the funeral service.

"It's just hard, especially when everyone sits there and thinks, 'it could have been me,'" Smith said. "It's not like here today, gone tomorrow. It's like here today, gone today."

"It's been a hard 24 hours," Lt. K.C. Bohrer told the Berkeley County Commissioners Thursday.

"It's just very emotional any time," said Bohrer, who has put together numerous ceremonies as a member of the honor guard for state police officers. "Law enforcement is a brotherhood and a family."

He said he expected at least 300 to 500 police officers to attend Saturday's service.

"This is just a real tragedy," said Berkeley County Prosecuting Attorney Pamela Games-Neely. "You can understand more if someone gets shot. We live in a violent society. But something like this, it's just catastrophic. This kind of thing (transporting prisoners) is something we do 100 times a day. It's just very, very hard."

The details of the crash have not been sorted out by police agencies.

Burkett's friend Jeff Wilkins is a bailiff with the Berkeley County court system. They met several years ago while both were working in security at the Coast Guard facility in the county. Both were Harley-Davidson motorcycle enthusiasts and both enjoyed working out at Gold's Gym in Martinsburg, Wilkins said. A weight lifter, Burkett was very strong, Wilkins said.

"He's going to be missed, not only by the Sheriff's Office, but by the guys at the gym," he said. "It was pretty solemn there today."

Smith said that working on the details helps officers keep their minds off the tragedy. He said the show of support from the community has been remarkable.

"Everybody has been offering words of encouragement, and asking us if they can do anything," he said.

Smith said the department is going through a tough time, making the transition from the previous sheriff to him and seeing three deputies charged with beating a suspect a year ago.

"Even as tragic as this is, it is bringing out an amazing amount of things you never really hear," he said. "With what's going on in the court, it's kind of uplifting."

Smith and the leadership of the department drove to Pennsylvania Thursday afternoon to escort Burkett's body back to the Berkeley County.

A viewing will be held at the Inwood, W.Va., chapel of Brown Funeral Home Friday from 6-9 p.m. A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. Saturday at Hedgesville High School in Berkeley County.

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