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Deputy prone to wrecks gets in another crash

By JONATHAN ABEL
Published February 3, 2007


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BROOKSVILLE - Sheriff's Deputy Darrin Burger was trying to make a traffic stop Thursday night when his cruiser hydroplaned off the road and slammed into a tree.

Burger, 38, was flown to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa with head, neck and back injuries and released later that night.

In May, he was making a U-turn on Broad Street as part of a traffic stop when a motorcyclist collided with him. Both vehicles burst into flames.

Steven Roundtree, 34, the motorcyclist, died. He was scheduled to deploy for his second tour in Iraq a month later.

In that crash, Burger was cleared of wrongdoing by the Florida Highway Patrol and the Hernando Sheriff's Office.

Thursday's wreck marked Burger's fifth on-duty crash in the last five years.

The crash happened at 7 p.m. as Burger was northbound on Snow Memorial Highway, approaching Snow Hill Road, north of Brooksville. It was raining.

Burger, who has been on the force since 1998, turned on his flashing lights to make a traffic stop. But as he came up in pursuit of the car, he drove over standing water and his cruiser hydroplaned, according to the crash report. The car spun counterclockwise and slammed into a tree.

Jeffrey Huber, 35, was the first one to come to the scene.

A respiratory therapist at Brooksville Regional Hospital, Huber was on his way home when Burger passed him. He saw Burger lose control and rushed to help.

"He had a big gash above his eye," said Huber, whose sister-in-law is a Hernando sheriff's deputy. "When I was looking at this guy, he needed my help, and I didn't hesitate at all because I have total respect for any law enforcement officer."

Huber stayed with Burger until rescue workers arrived. He said the scene smelled like gas. Huber turned off the car. He squeezed Burger's foot to make sure he still had feeling in his leg.

"I was just trying to talk to the guy and tell him he's going to be okay," Huber said.

Rescue workers arrived about 10 minutes later, and Burger was flown to Tampa.

"If he would have hit the tree on the side or the front, I don't think he'd be here," Huber said.

The crash investigation, which the Sheriff's Office conducted, lists the damage to Burger's car as $15,000. It also says he was traveling the speed limit of 55 mph.

Sheriff's Office policy says all crashes involving deputies must come before the accident review board, which will decide whether to discipline Burger.

Burger's other crashes ranged from minor bumps with no damage to the fatal wreck in May.

"It is inevitable that an officer is going to get in an accident from time to time in their career," said sheriff's spokeswoman Donna Black, "because of the sheer number of hours they spend in the car."

Burger won't return to work until he gets medical clearance, Black said.

Jonathan Abel can be reached at 352 754-6114 or jabel@sptimes.com.

Fast Facts:

Deputy Darrin Burger's on-duty driving record

April 23, 2002: Burger's sheriff's cruiser stopped behind another vehicle at a light and then jumped forward, causing a minor crash.

Aug. 8, 2002: Burger damaged the front driver's side of his car in an accident with another deputy while leaving the Sheriff's Office parking lot.

Dec. 2, 2003: Burger was taking a suspect to jail when the suspect kicked out the window and escaped. Burger tried to cut the suspect off with his car but ran into a small drainage ditch, lost control and hit an embankment. He received a written reprimand.

May 21, 2006: Burger made a U-turn as part of a traffic stop and collided with a motorcyclist. The motorcyclist died. Burger suffered minor injuries.

Feb. 1, 2007: Burger lost control on a wet street and slammed into a tree. He was flown to a Tampa hospital.

Source: Hernando County Sheriff's Office.

[Last modified February 2, 2007, 20:52:29]


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