REPRINTED STORY FROM 12/16/2009
New and disturbing details emerged on Thursday regarding the Wednesday night death of a Cypress man. While a witness is filling in the gaps in the tragic story, a non-profit organization that handles organ donations has found itself on the defensive regarding their treatment of the widow.
The Texas Department of Public Safety was still processing the accident scene where 55-year-old Dana Burkett of Cypress was ejected and killed when he crashed his 2005 Corvette at a high rate of speed during what witnesses told investigating officers was a street race.
In a typical automobile fatality scenario, law enforcement completes the on-scene portion of their investigation and then they go and respectfully notify the victim’s family their loved one is gone. But on Wednesday night, something went terribly wrong and DPS never had the chance to make notification.
Troopers were in the middle of processing the scene when Burkett’s wife learned her husband would never come home again through a phone call from LifeGift, asking if she would consider donating her husband’s organs.
LifeGift does not deny the allegation that they called Mrs. Burkett before notification was made. However, some might interpret the statement they released as less than apologetic.
The statement began, “LifeGift does not inform next-of-kin about the death of a loved one. This has always been and will continue to be our policy. In calling the family to inquire about donation and in announcing who we were, the family concluded that their loved one had died.”
LifeGift further stated it was the first time in the history of their organization that their call to a family about organ donation “has had this type of unintended consequence.”
According to LifeGift, they did not actually make notification, they only asked about harvesting her husband’s organs.
“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.”
LifeGift wants people to know they did not simply hang up on the grieving widow after their faux pas.
“LifeGift provided Mrs. Burkett with the contact information she needed to obtain additional information, including phone numbers to the local sheriff’s department.”
Of course, the county sheriff’s department was not handling the scene. It was DPS.
Their statement finished with reiteration that it is not their protocol to inform family members of a death, “but to allow them the opportunity to participate in the organ and tissue donation process.”
“Organ and tissue donation saves lives. LifeGift’s responsibility is to offer this opportunity to families.”
A witness, who wished remain anonymous, says he was behind the two cars and claims the Corvette caused the accident. As the pair of cars approached the point where FM 249 narrows from three lanes to two, the Mustang was in the right lane and the Corvette was in the left lane. The Corvette cut in front of another vehicle in an effort to remain on the paved road, but when he swerved, his tire struck a curb. At that point, the witness said Burkett lost control and the car crossed to the right side of the ditch, striking a light pole and then flipping several times.
The witness called 911 as he parked and ran to the Corvette, which is when he realized Burkett had been ejected and was laying around 50 yards from the car on the right hand lane of the road. As he continued to talk with the 911 operator, the witness and another Good Samaritan rushed over to Burkett and found he had no pulse and obvious severe head injuries.
According to the witness, contrary to initial information released, the other vehicle did stop when Burkett’s Corvette crashed. However, he says the car sped away, apparently after seeing Burkett’s lifeless body on the roadway.
He describes the second vehicle as a late model Mustang, yellow with a black convertible top and black racing stripes. Unfortunately, those who stopped to help were unable to get a license plate number before the Mustang was out of sight.
Burkett was a husband and father of three.
Anyone with information regarding the driver who fled the scene should contact the Department of Public Safety office in Conroe at 800-525-5555.