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Friday, May 11, 2018 1:00 am

Teen pleads guilty in fatality; prison unlikely

MATTHEW LEBLANC | The Journal Gazette

A Fort Wayne teenager admitted to causing a fatal car crash last year but likely will not spend time in prison.

A plea agreement filed in Allen Superior Court calls for Liam B. Burke, 18, to spend five years on probation for the May 12 crash. Under the agreement, he will also serve one year on home detention and perform 200 hours of community service.

Burke, who was 17 when the wreck happened, was driving a Ford Mustang over 90 mph before crashing into a Toyota Scion driven by Frederick Neuls, 73, in the 13000 block of Ernst Road.

Burke told investigators at the time he was driving 45 mph, and the speed limit is 40 mph, according to court documents.

“I was driving recklessly, over the speed limit, approximately 90 mph,” he told Allen Superior Court Judge John Surbeck.

Burke pleaded guilty Thursday to felony charges of reckless homicide and criminal recklessness. He also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of criminal recklessness.

The plea agreement calls for suspended sentences of six years on the reckless homicide charge, 21/2 years on the felony criminal recklessness charge and one year on the misdemeanor criminal recklessness charge, which means he will likely spend no time behind bars. 

The agreement includes restitution payments and a suspension of Burke's driver's license for six years.

It will be up to Surbeck to decide in a June 15 sentencing hearing whether to send Burke to prison.

Neuls was turning into a driveway about 6:30 p.m. when Burke plowed into him, police said. Neuls died from blunt force trauma to the head and chest, court documents said.

Two passengers in the Mustang were injured – one suffered head and facial trauma and the other endured back pain and a concussion, a probable cause affidavit said.

A reconstruction of the crash by Indiana State Police found Burke was driving 90 mph just before impact. A half-second before the collision, the Mustang was traveling 71.6 mph.

“The defendant only stopped accelerating at 1.5 seconds prior to impact and applied the brake at 1.0 seconds prior to impact,” an officer said in court documents.

Prosecutors agreed to drop a felony criminal recklessness charge as part of the plea agreement. 

mleblanc@jg.net