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Need for speed hits a bump in the road

A 22-year-old's addiction to fast cars lands him in jail after losing his license at 19 and having it suspended at least 25 times, state records show.

By CARY DAVIS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 1, 2002


He has been ticketed four times for speeding, three for careless driving. Eleven times, he has failed to pay traffic fines. He has been arrested six times in Florida for driving on a suspended license.

A license that, by the state's last count, has been suspended 25 times.

And Scott Patrick Burke is only 22.

"I've never seen a record this long," said Darby Stickler, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, as the third page of Burke's driving history rolled off the printer. "Wow, here comes page four."

Then page five.

Before his most recent arrest on Nov. 11, Burke lived in Shady Hills. Now he resides in the Pasco County jail, and because he has no hope of making his $47,000 bail, chances are he'll be there a while.

Burke is in big trouble. But not because he's a violent felon.

Scott Burke is a traffic scofflaw.

"My record," he said in a recent jailhouse interview, "is terrible. It's as bad as someone in their 40s."

What began as a teenage thirst for speed has snowballed over the years into something much more serious. Traffic tickets led to fines and points on his driver's license. He racked up so many points that he lost his license at 19. He never got his driving privileges back, records show, because he didn't pay his fines. He also skipped court dates. Warrants were issued for his arrest.

Still, he kept driving.

Inevitably, he got caught.

"I was always in the wrong place at the wrong time," he said.

Burke has been arrested 12 times in Florida. With the exception of a misdemeanor battery charge, every arrest has been traffic related.

There are the six arrests for driving on a suspended license, one of which resulted in an 18-day jail sentence. His sixth arrest for driving on a suspended license came Nov. 11, after he crashed into a neighbor's fence.

There's also an arrest for drunken driving on his record. During one traffic stop, police found drug paraphernalia in his car.

Though Burke's crimes are considered victimless -- he never has been charged with injuring another motorist -- he now faces the possibility of five years in prison.

Prosecutors say that's where he belongs.

"It's at the point now where you've got to warehouse the guy to protect everyone else on the roads," said Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis.

National studies, including one by the American Automobile Association, have shown that one in five fatal crashes are caused by drivers who don't have a valid license.

That's why it's important to aggressively prosecute people who continuously drive without a license, said Bob Sanchez, a spokesman for the state motor vehicles department.

"If we winked at people who drive without a license, and failed to take this seriously, it would undermine the whole system of licensing," Sanchez said. "To be driving without a license is just inexcusable. It shows an overt contempt for our whole system of laws."

Burke, who dropped out of Hudson High School and has worked as a mechanic and a computer technician, said he often had no choice but to keep driving -- even though he knew he was breaking the law.

He has family and friends who can drive him around, he said, "but there are times when people aren't there when I need them."

There's also this: Burke likes speed.

At 12, he was racing motorcycles on a drag strip in Lakeland. He said he was the fastest kid there, and earned the title "King of the Street."

He bought his first car, he said, when he was 16 and still had a learner's permit. In fact, he didn't get his regular license until he was 18. It took him less than a year to lose it.

He said he owns five cars, all paid for with cash, although public records show no vehicles registered to his name. He said the cars were registered in the names of relatives. His relatives could not be reached for comment.

Burke said his fleet includes two Mustangs, two pickup trucks and a 1991 Lincoln Town Car.

He is most proud of the Lincoln, a souped-up machine with a 4.6-liter Cobra V-8 engine, a metallic green paint job, fancy wheels and drag pipes instead of a muffler -- "It's louder that way," he said, "and more powerful."

"Everybody thought they were fast," he said. "I wanted to prove I was faster."

And he did. He said he once got the Lincoln up to 142 mph on the Lakeland drag strip. He ran the quarter-mile in 11.9 seconds, he said.

His black 1988 Mustang is no slouch, either, he said. Once, he got it up to 160 mph on U.S. 19 in north Pinellas, he said. "It took three and a half blocks to stop."

Those days, he promised, are in the past. He and his girlfriend now have two young children, including a month-old baby girl, to think about, he said.

"I know I really messed up," Burke said, wiping away tears. "But right now, I really want to get out of jail and go home to my kids."

And what about his drivers license, which is suspended until at least 2006?

"I just look at it like, 'Oh well, I'll get it back."'

-- Cary Davis covers courts in west Pasco County. He can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6236, or toll free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6236. His e-mail address is cbdavis@sptimes.com .

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