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Published: Saturday, 5/21/2005

Drunk driver gets10 years after plea by dead man s kin

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE No matter how many different ways she thought about it, the ending always turned out the same for 19-year-old Erin Burkett.

Her father was dead, killed in a horrific accident caused by a drunk driver.

And the man responsible for his death 23-year-old Octavio Lucero of Monroe would be released from prison at an age considerably younger than her father, Patrick Burkett, was when he died at 48.

That, Erin Burkett told Circuit Court Judge Joseph Costello, Jr., yesterday morning, was a weight almost too difficult to bear.

Judge Costello listened to Ms. Burkett s tearful speech on behalf of her father and then sentenced Lucero to 10 years in prison on each of the four counts on which a jury found him guilty manslaughter, operating while intoxicated causing death, fleeing and eluding causing death, and driving with a suspended license.

The sentences will run concurrently. Lucero will have to serve all 10 years, minus the 356 days he already has served, authorities said.

Guidelines called for Judge Costello to sentence Lucero to 43 to 86 months on each count. The judge would have none of that.

The sentencing guidelines are woefully inadequate in this matter, he said.

Lucero was southbound on South Dixie Highway at 10:45 p.m. on May 30 when a motorist alerted Monroe County s central dispatch office that Lucero was driving erratically along the Dixie. Sheriff s Deputy William Broman, who had activated his siren, emergency lights, and a spotlight, attempted to stop Lucero. But Lucero sped up as he reached eastbound Luna Pier Road, reaching speeds of 85 to 90 mph, authorities said. As the car crossed the Norfolk-Southern tracks west of Victory Road, Lucero lost control and slammed into the rear of the vehicle driven by Mr. Burkett, a Southfield, Mich., attorney, killing him instantly. Ms. Burkett and a girlfriend passengers in the Burkett vehicle - were injured in the accident.

Lucero and a passenger, Norma Valera-Delavez, 31, fled the scene on foot but were apprehended by deputies.

At the trial, Prosecutor William Paul Nichols showed videotape of the pursuit and the accident. In his defense, Lucero said he had several drinks after work, took a nap, and then was awakened by his girlfriend, Ms. Valera-Delavez, who had a bloody nose and asked to be taken to St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center in Toledo.

Lucero, whose license was suspended from a Nov. 11, 2003, accident during which he also fled the scene, said he was taking Ms. Valera-Delavez to the Luna Pier Ballroom to meet a friend who would take Ms. Valera-Delavez to Toledo.

Judge Costello said he did not believe Lucero s story.

In arguing for a stiffer sentence, Mr. Nichols said Lucero already had left the scene of a previous accident, that he was driving with a suspended license, and that he refused to stop when flagged by deputies and fled at a high speed.

This was not a typical drunk-driving case. He had the ability to stop, Mr. Nichols said.

Lucero s attorney, Assad Farah, conceded the incident was deplorable.

I can t imagine what it has been like for Mr. Burkett s family to deal with this matter, he said.

But he argued that Lucero should receive no additional prison time beyond what the guidelines call for.

Mr. Burkett s family argued otherwise.

I don t think [Lucero] has any idea what he has done, said Mr. Burkett s twin brother, Paul Burkett. Mr. Lucero clearly is a menace to society. Clearly he was going to continue [to commit] this sort of action.

Added Erin Burkett, addressing Lucero: My Dad was a good person and we loved him. You killed him and you took him from us.

Lucero was passive and unemotional throughout the hearing.

Through an interpreter, he said: I m sorry about everything that happened. It was not my intention to kill a human being.

Judge Costello said he visited the accident site, which moved him, and he studied Mr. Burkett s career, which he called exemplary. Of all the illegal actions Lucero committed the night of the incident, one stood out and resulted in the stiff sentence for Lucero, according to the judge.

[You] made a conscious decision to abandon a person [in a wrecked vehicle]. I can t find anything more deplorable than that, Judge Costello said.

Contact George J. Tanber at:gtanber@theblade.com or 734-241-3610.



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