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4,500 Attend Memorial for Slain Officer

Funeral: Mourners fill a Santa Ana church to pay respects to Don J. Burt, shot to death in O.C.

July 19, 1996|H.G. REZA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — More than 4,500 police officers and other mourners crammed a church here Thursday to pay tribute to rookie CHP Officer Don J. Burt, who was gunned down last weekend during a traffic stop.

The young officer's wife sang their special song during the funeral as colleagues praised Burt as a model of his police academy class.

"You were faithful to your call," CHP Commissioner Spike Helmick said, glancing at the 25-year-old officer's flag-draped coffin. "Your work was well done."

About 3,000 of the mourners were police officers representing scores of departments across Southern California and law enforcement agencies from as far away as Maryland and New Jersey. They were joined by Gov. Pete Wilson in lauding Burt, who was a patrolman for only 15 months when he was shot seven times, including once in the head, last Saturday in a Fullerton parking lot.

Throngs of officers in uniform quickly filled Calvary Chapel beyond its 1,900 capacity, forcing church officials to open a gymnasium and reception hall for the overflow crowd. Some officers stood outside because there was no room indoors and residents lined the sidewalk to pay their respects.

Burt's pregnant wife, Kristin, and his parents, Don and Jeannie Burt, listened as speakers remembered Burt as a dedicated officer with an infectious sense of humor that endeared him to friends, colleagues and his superiors.

His father, CHP Sgt. Don Burt Sr., told the gathering that his son, known as Donnie to family and friends, left his mark during his short life and brief career as a law enforcement officer.

Choking back tears, the elder Burt said, "There are millions of people in this country. Donnie will soon be forgotten by most." But his son will be remembered by others "because he has made a difference," he said.

The governor decried the shooting as an "inexcusable act of violence."

"I am filled with anger for the vicious thug that stole your husband; that stole your son's life," he told family members.

Wilson then recalled that his grandfather was a Chicago police officer killed while making an arrest 80 years ago.

The ceremony had some lighter moments. Tamara Dinkelbach, who had known Burt since junior high school, chuckled at the irony of Burt growing up to become a highway patrolman, given that he was involved in four traffic accidents before finishing high school. Friends have already nicknamed Burt's unborn child "Crash."

Burt's commander, Capt. Chuck Lynd, recounted how Burt wrecked two patrol cruisers during his one-year probationary period after graduating from the academy--normally a time when rookie officers "want to remain as inconspicuous as possible" and out of sight of the CHP brass.

The church rocked with laughter as Lynd told how he was reminded daily of Burt's mishaps, because the wrecked patrol cars were stored in view of where he parked his car every morning. Despite Burt's mishaps, CHP officials could "tell he had the right stuff" to be a CHP officer, Lynd said.

Kristin Burt, 28, thanked fellow officers and friends for their support and said, "Donnie would be very happy about the laughter here today. He would appreciate the funny stories, because that's what he was all about," she said.

In a final goodbye to her husband, Kristin Burt sang "You Are My Sunshine," calling it a special song that she used to sing to him in happy times. Many in attendance dabbed their eyes when the young widow ended the song with "Please don't take my sunshine away."

"I love you honey bunny," she said. 'You'll always be in my heart."

After the memorial service, thousands of uniformed police officers spilled outside the church to hear CHP Officer Ann Marie Hoyland blow taps. Police helicopters from various departments flew overhead in missing man formation, signifying a fallen officer.

The church's parking lot was full, forcing hundreds of officers to park their motorcycles and patrol cars in the middle of the street. Dozens of residents lined both sides of Fairview Street, which was closed between Sunflower Avenue and MacArthur Boulevard.

Residents of a neighboring apartment complex stood quietly on their balconies, some holding American flags as the procession of police vehicles left the church. Others stood on chairs or boxes to look over a block wall fence.

"It's still not clear to me why this officer had to die," said Marilyn Duboce, 34, standing on the sidewalk with her two young sons. "It's a terrible commentary on our society that some of us can kill another human being without hesitation and for the most irrational of reasons."

CHP officials said that contributors have given more than $40,000 to the Don Burt Memorial Fund this week. The proceeds will go to Burt's widow, who is expecting the couple's first child in September.

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