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Deputy Burkett honored by officers, community

February 03, 2001

Deputy Burkett honored by officers, community



By MARLO BARNHART / Staff Writer


HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. - Berkeley County Sheriff's Deputy John Lewis Burkett III was mourned by family, honored by colleagues and memorialized by his community at a funeral service Saturday attended by 400 to 500 people.

Transporting a prisoner back to West Virginia, Burkett, 28, was killed in the line of duty Wednesday when a wrong-way driver plowed into the cruiser he was riding in on Interstate 81 in Franklin County, Pa.

Nothing could have prepared Berkeley County Sheriff Randy Smith for the death of one of his deputies.

"I just spoke with John the day before the accident and the next time I saw him, he was on a hospital gurney," Smith said Saturday at the funeral.

Burkett's parents, his sister and other relatives joined with Smith and more than 400 police officers at Hedgesville High School for funeral services.

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"I hope I never have to do this again," Smith said haltingly. "But I'm glad we were able to give him a proper law enforcement farewell."

Cruisers from numerous police agencies were positioned along W.Va. 9 from the I-81 cloverleaf west to the high school building. Two fire ladder trucks defined the entrance with a huge American flag draped in between.

The Berkeley County Sheriff's Department was in attendance, as were officers from Pennsylvania State Police and the Franklin County Sheriff's Department who were at the accident scene.

An honor guard made up of officers from several departments and states carried flags and stood at attention throughout the service, which lasted just over an hour.

The north side bleachers were filled with civilian friends, county and state officials and spouses of police officers.

Uniformed officers from at least four states and as far away as Fairmont, W.Va., took up every seat in the south side bleachers.

More than 200 chairs were set up on the gymnasium floor. Few were left empty.

A hush fell over the crowd as Berkeley County Deputy Joe Miller arrived in a wheelchair. Miller, the driver of the cruiser, was injured in the accident that took Burkett's life. He was released from Washington County Hospital Thursday.

The driver of the other car, Lance S. Parkins, remained in critical condition Saturday at Washington County Hospital.

Three former Berkeley County sheriffs - Preston Gooden, William "Shug" Kisner and Ronald Jones - were also on hand for the funeral.

The only music during the service was provided by Christopher Jackson, a retired Washington, D.C., Metro Police officer who offered "Amazing Grace" and "Going Home" on the bagpipes.

Burkett's pastor for the past five years, the Rev. Terri Cofiell of Hedgesville United Methodist Church, said everyone was united in disbelief.

"John should have lived many more years, surrounded by children and grandchildren of his own," Cofiell said of the 28-year-old bachelor.

She said she witnessed Burkett's passion to become a police officer, which dated back to when former Berkeley County Sheriff Lyle Catlett was his Sunday school teacher.

The Rev. Dean Plumlee of the Independent Bible Church recalled standing in the Hedgesville gymnasium with Burkett, his best friend when they both graduated from high school in 1990. Plumlee struggled to keep his emotions in check as he bid his friend good-bye.

"This kind of tragedy hits us all," said Lt. Doug Mullendore of the Washington County Sheriff's Department in Hagerstown.

Mullendore was one of about a half-dozen representatives from his department who also attended the viewing at Brown Funeral Home in Martinsburg Friday evening to show respect for the officer they never met.

W.Va. Gov. Bob Wise attended the viewing but wasn't at the funeral the following day.

Following the funeral service, Cofiell invited everyone to stay for a meal prepared by an army of volunteers from churches, schools and the community at large.

Cofiell said stores, restaurants, businesses and individuals began mobilizing Thursday and Friday, donating and preparing meals for those who attended the funeral.

"Stay, everyone, and help celebrate John's life," Cofiell said.

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