Wife learns of husband's death from donation request

December 17, 2009 5:02:43 PM PST
A Corvette was crushed into a mangled piece of metal and authorities say street racing cost the driver his life. Most troubling for the family of the man who died there is not just his death. It's the way they found out about it.

There is not much left of Dana Burkett's 2005 Corvette. Investigators say he was northbound on Highway 249 street racing another vehicle around 7pm when he hit a curb and lost control. It happened right where three lanes narrow to two south of Coe Road. Burkett lost control, the Corvette rolling, striking a utility pole.

A trooper told us the impact was so severe it separated the rear of the vehicle from the front. The 55-year-old Burkett was ejected and was pronounced dead at the scene. Authorities say he was not wearing his seat belt.

However, it was not an investigator from the scene who broke the news to Burkett's widow. A family spokesperson says it was someone from a company named LifeGift calling her home intending to ask if she would consider donating his organs.

"Very upsetting to her. That's no way for her, for somebody to find out about their loved one passing away," said Hal McAfee, a long-time friend.

McAfee says it wasn't until sometime later that a Department of Public Safety trooper contacted the family. DPS has not returned our calls to answer questions about when that happened and if it was within a reasonable period of time.

A LifeGift spokesperson says they received notification at 8pm from Montgomery County EMS that there had been a fatality. That was one hour after the wreck. They say they called Burkett's home at 9:30pm, assuming investigators had already spoken to the family. They say they never told Burkett's widow he'd been killed.

LifeGift issued this statement reading in part, "This is the first time in the history of our organization that our call to a family about donation has had this type of unintended consequence. It was not our intention to inadvertently cause Mrs. Burkett to conclude that something had happened to her husband and we extend our sincere apologies to the Burkett family."

Regardless, McAfee says there should be some policy or procedure at LifeGift and elsewhere in law enforcement which keeps families from learning news of a death from an organization seeking organ donations.

"I feel like they need to call and make an apology to her, to the family," said McAfee.

Popular area for street racing

Investigators are still looking for the driver of a Ford Mustang last seen speeding north after Burkett's crash. They say that person never stopped to see what happened here.

McAfee told us Burkett was not one to race and that he usually wore his seat belt. Eyewitnesses told investigators Burkett was racing someone in a yellow, late model Ford Mustang and that its driver never stopped. Folks say this is a stretch of roadway often used for racing.

"Well, since I have to share that road, I would just assume they didn't," said Frances Anderson.

Milt Sias has also seen racing.

"I don't know who they are. I just see a lot of them going fast," said Sias.

Last January, five people were killed in what investigators said was another street race. That happened less than a mile from last night's wreck.

Burkett was an oil industry worker from Cypress and is survived by a wife and three grown children. On behalf of his widow, McAfee pleads for information about that driver who was last seen speeding from the scene here.

"If they could come forward just to let her know for her peace of mind, so she knows what really happened there," said McAfee.

If you know anything about the driver of the yellow Ford Mustang, please call the Department of Public Safety office in Conroe at 800-525-5555.


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