MADISON, Wis. (AP) – A former Lutheran bishop pleaded guilty Tuesday to killing a jogger in a drunken crash, under a deal with prosecutors that could send him to prison for up to 15 years.
Bruce Burnside pleaded guilty to second-degree reckless homicide and first-offense drunken driving in the April 7, 2013, death of Maureen Mengelt in Sun Prairie, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.
Mengelt, a 52-year-old mother of three and a former Madison police officer, was moving along a blacktop path where it crosses the bottom of a Highway 151 off-ramp when Burnside hit her on his way to delivering a sermon. A makeshift memorial consisting of piles of running shoes still stands at the spot.
Burnside’s blood alcohol concentration was 0.128 percent, above Wisconsin’s 0.08 percent limit for driving.
The State Journal reported that Assistant District Attorney Emily Thompson said in a letter to Dane County Circuit Judge Nicholas McNamara that Burnside’s driving was criminally reckless. She wrote that he wasn’t paying attention to the road, was texting in the minutes leading up to the crash, told police he was looking at his GPS or car radio and didn’t stop until he was a quarter of a mile from the scene. He knew he was putting people in danger because he knew he had been drinking, she added.
Burnside, 60, was a bishop in the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He stepped down from the position shortly after the crash. His term as bishop was set to end in June 2013.
Prosecutors initially filed five other charges against Burnside in addition to reckless homicide and first-offense drunken driving, including hit-and-run and homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle. Prosecutors agreed to drop all those counts in exchange for a guilty plea on the reckless homicide and first-offense drunken driving.
Thompson said the deal was the best way to guarantee a felony conviction, avoid lengthy appeals and provide Mengelt’s family with closure. Mengelt’s husband, Kevin Mengelt, was critical of the deal last week but didn’t comment after Tuesday’s hearing.
Second-degree reckless homicide carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and 10 years of extended supervision. Thompson said she would recommend Burnside serve up to eight years as part of the plea deal. First-offense drunken driving is a civil violation that carries a $300 fine.