Man accused of DWI when 17-year-old was killed runs addiction recovery program

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Monday, November 20, 2023
Deer Park High School student Marissa Burke dies after being hit by suspected drunk driver while walking home, her family responds
Deer Park High School student Marissa Burke was taken off life support after she was hit by a suspected drunk driver while walking home on Tuesday.

DEER PARK, Texas (KTRK) -- This morning was another event in a long devastating period for Marissa Burke's family.

"The Marissa I knew, the real one, she was very funny," her sister, Bailey Burke, said. "And very caring, she put everybody first."

"Right now we're trying to work through everything and process it all," her stepfather, Ryan Herring, said.

Marissa was walking home from school on Tuesday when the accused drunk driver, 55-year-old Leland Smith, swerved onto the sidewalk and hit Marissa.

She was taken to the hospital, but on Friday morning, the decision was made to take her off life support.

"She was so brave. She didn't move, she didn't flinch," Herring said. "She didn't look like she was in any pain."

Almost everyone was there, including Marissa's mother, who is in the hospital battling brain cancer.

She was able to visit Marissa for a day before being readmitted and later joined Marissa's final moments over speaker phone.

"It only took about five minutes and she was ready to go. We all knew it," Herring said.

Herring said he wants to see Smith found guilty.

Smith runs an addiction recovery program, and while Herring has been in addiction recovery for 12 years, he said he feels no sympathy for the man who chose to get behind the wheel if he was in fact drunk.

"For a man to take an innocent life so tragically and so violently like that, I cannot express how angry I am," Herring said.

Smith faces charges of felony murder now that Marissa has passed, according to the DA's office. He has three prior convictions, including a felony DWI that sent him to prison.

Bailey was driving by when her sister was hit. She said she got out and confronted Smith and then stayed with Marissa until she was taken to the hospital.

Marissa was getting ready to graduate and go to college. She was deciding between pursuing her love for art or becoming an occupational therapist, a career inspired by her mother's battle with cancer.

Smith was transferred to the Harris County jail Friday, and the Burke family is asking for the maximum sentence.

READ RELATED: Deer Park HS student dies after being hit by suspected drunk driver while walking home

Watch the previous report below.

A Deer Park High School South Campus 17-year-old student is on life support after being hit by a suspected drunk driver while walking home.