His was a cop's life, and a cop's family--his father, father-in-law, brother-in-law, all of them wearing badges. Don Burt couldn't wait for his turn.
And 15 months after his proud father pinned the badge of the California Highway Patrol on the second generation of Burts to wear the CHP shield, Don Burt died a cop's death.
On Saturday evening, in a brightly lit parking lot, within sight of the Mexican restaurant where he had had dinner with his pregnant wife just a few hours before, and where his niece and nephews had teased him and called him "Onky Donkey" instead of "Uncle Donny," he was shot to death, allegedly by a motorist who was carrying a suspended driver's license--and a 9-millimeter handgun.
As they so often do, things got out of hand fast. Dozens of late diners at Coco's Family Restaurant saw it happen: the traffic stop, the call for the tow truck, Burt waving off a fellow cop who happened by and asked whether he needed help, Burt turning up some bogus travelers checks--and then the pushing and the shoving, and the gun.
The motorist shot six rounds into Burt. None of them would have been fatal. It was the seventh bullet, delivered when Burt lay bleeding on the asphalt and the man stood over him and fired into his left eye, that killed him.
Kristin Burt had scarcely arrived back home from dinner when a CHP officer showed up to escort her to the hospital. She had been summoned to the hospital like that once before, in January, when Burt crashed into a tree chasing a motorcyclist.
He was fine that time, and Kristin Burt had taken to calling him Ferris Bueller, after the movie character who skated on the edge of disaster and never fell through.
Don Burt was 25 years old when he died.
Within an hour, Anaheim police had taken into custody Young Ho Choi, 33, of Palm Springs, a man who has what a Fullerton detective called an extensive criminal record.
For two hours thereafter, a steady parade of witnesses--some in the company of officers and some alone--came by to try to identify him. Several times, police pulled Choi from the back of the police car, stood him up in front of an auto repair shop and shone a spotlight on him.
Early Sunday morning, they arrested Choi on suspicion of murder. Charges may be brought Tuesday after a review by the Orange County district attorney's office.
At Perris High School, where he had been senior class president and a 12-letter man--varsity in soccer, swimming and water polo, for all four years--Don Burt had planned on being a high school history teacher.
But there was his father's example--the elder Don Burt had been a CHP officer since 1969, and with not so much as a traffic accident. And then, in 1989, there was Kristin.
On Sunday, Kristin Burt lay on the sofa of her condo. She had put on one of her husband's T-shirts when she got home from the hospital where he died, where she had held him and kissed him and told him she loved him and would take good care of their baby.
In 1989, Kristin hired Burt to work for her at a video store. A friend had pointed Burt out to her, and at first all she saw was his back, "and I remember thinking, 'Ooh, mama.' " Two days later he was hired; two weeks later they were dating, writing down on a napkin all the things they would be doing together 50 years from that night.
Her father had retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, and her brother was still a deputy. That influence, and his father's work, changed Burt's mind about teaching. In April 1995 he graduated from the CHP academy, and was soon teaching computers and showing the ropes to other rookies.
Catching drunk drivers was his special mission, and "doing something to protect others," as his mother, Jeannie, put it, "people who get in trouble on the road."
When other officers would go for coffee, said his beat partner Ari Wolfe, "Don would go and get that extra ticket."
His parents worried, though, about the boy they still called "Baby Donny." "He wasn't as big as I was," his father fretted, "and he was a lot nicer than me."
And his mother-in-law, Judy Muravez, the mother and wife of cops, said Sunday that "It's kind of different when your husband's been an officer because they're an adult, but it's really hard when you raise a child and see them vulnerable. I loved Don like a son."
This year things were doubly exciting--a new job and a new baby. He took the sonograms to work to show his friends. "There was nothing to see," said Wolfe, "but he was so excited about it and wanted all of us to see it."
With his own baby on the way, he had asked for Saturday off, to entertain his young niece and nephews, whose father had been killed in a traffic accident in Arkansas last October. But they were short-handed, Kristin said, so he went to work.