Jeffrey Russell Burnette of Huber Heights, convicted in the death of 59-year-old Mechanicsburg resident Charles Roger Rutan Jr., was sentenced on Thursday to a minimum of eight years and maximum of 12 years in prison – the highest possible sentence for a vehicular homicide conviction.
After Burnette is released, he will be under controlled supervision for a minimum of 18 months and a maximum of three years. His driver’s license has been suspended for life as part of the sentencing.
Burnette, age 57, pleaded guilty in November to two of four indictments against him and he remains lodged in the Tri-County Jail prior to his pending processing into the prison system.
Burnette had been indicted in October by a Champaign County grand jury on two counts of aggravated vehicular homicide and two counts of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, a drug of abuse or a combination of them.
In a November plea agreement with the county prosecutor’s office, Burnette pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated vehicular homicide and one count of operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol, a drug of abuse or a combination of them.
The crash that killed Rutan took place on September 16 at 6:40 p.m. According to the state patrol, Burnette’s pick-up truck was driving north on state Route 4 when it lost control going over railroad tracks and struck a car in a gas station parking lot. The driver of the car in the parking lot, Rutan, died at the scene. Rutan was exiting the “Winners 1 Stop” when his car was struck.
Burnette was not injured in the crash and he was found to be under the influence of alcohol, three times above the legal limit.
Another parked vehicle and the awning of the gas station were also damaged in the crash.
Rutan was a 1980 graduate of Mechanicsburg High School. He was employed for over 20 years with Mechanicsburg Schools. Rutan was a longtime member of Mechanicsburg Lodge #113 F. & A. M. He is survived by his wife and family members.
During the sentencing held Thursday, Rutan’s daughter Becky Stewart spoke on behalf of her father and family.
“My dad was just getting into his golden years. He was set to retire next year after more than 20 years of service to the Mechanicsburg schools,” said Stewart. “He loved spending time with his grandchildren and watching them grow. He was an avid outdoorsman and you always saw him with a gun or a fishing pole. Because of a senseless act on that tragic day in September, he will never do those things again. My dad would not want us to be consumed with sadness over our loss. He would want us to live our lives with the cherished memories we had together. I choose to honor him and not let myself be overcome with anger and hatred as I try to keep his memory alive. There will be no sentencing today that will bring my dad back, but regardless of the time given, I pray that the defendant thinks about his choices that day and decides to make a difference of what life he has left.”
“I am truly sorry,” said Burnette. “I am trying to be better with my life. I am trying to spread the word that if you have been drinking, don’t drive because it does destroy families.”
Defense counsel listed several aspects that he hoped Judge Nick Selvaggio would take into consideration for Burnette’s sentence. The aspects included Burnette’s veteran status and past history without felony charges and his previous criminal conviction being an OVI from 26 years ago. Defense counsel stated that Burnette’s alcohol problem began when he was serving in the military. Another aspect listed was Burnette’s remorse towards his actions.
After questioning the defendant, Selvaggio evaluated defense counsel’s suggestions.
“I understand that in (most) vehicular homicide cases, there is no criminal intent to cause a loss of life,” said Selvaggio. “The court has to look at the context of the circumstances of the incident and decide what term should be imposed.”
Selvaggio noted that Burnette’s drunken state on the day of the crash played a large role in his sentencing.
After reading Burnette’s PSI, (pre-sentence investigation), Selvaggio emphasized his concern with the fact that Burnette admitted to consuming a pint of liquor every other day on a regular basis while employed as a driver for the past 10 years.
Selvaggio also noted that according to the PSI, Burnette had been raised in an alcohol abusive atmosphere before his years of service in the Navy and abstained from seeking help early on or later in life. All these factors contributed to Selvaggio’s decision, he said.
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