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Archive for Sunday, January 7, 2001

Bridge-jumper fled psych ward

Suicide that also killed truck driver considered second-degree murder

January 7, 2001

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— A man who jumped from an overpass and crashed through the windshield of a truck, killing both himself and the driver, had a history of psychiatric problems, officials said.

Jim Burkhead, 33, of Wilson was taken to the Salina Regional Medical Center on Wednesday by the Ellsworth County Sheriff's Office, but later left the hospital.

About 10:30 p.m. Thursday, Burkhead jumped from an overpass in Salina and landed on a truck driven by Lyndon Gurtner, 36, who had just spent the evening delivering Schwan's frozen food products.

Police are considering Gurtner's death second-degree murder, although Burkhead might not have intended to kill Gurtner. It appeared that Burkhead, who weighed 300 pounds, timed his jump to land on the truck, officials said.

"His act was the direct cause of Mr. Gurtner's death," Police Chief Jim Hill said Friday. "This tragic loss of life was no accident."

Both men apparently died on impact. The truck swerved into an embankment and then veered back across the road into a muddy median, Lt. Mike Sweeney said.

No other injuries were reported.

Officers were called to the scene when a motorist reported a smoking truck in the median. No witnesses reported seeing Burkhead jump.

Burkhead, who was single and had no children, was a truck driver who recently lost his job, said his sister-in-law, Jill Burkhead.

Burkhead was charged in 1987 with stabbing his brother several times. He pleaded guilty to lesser charges and was given probation, Wilson Police Chief Tim Heard said.

Years later, he rammed his pickup into a wall in Lorraine, apparently in an effort to kill himself. He then agreed to psychiatric treatment at the medical center in Salina, Heard said.

After a short time at the hospital, Burkhead left the Salina facility, Heard said.

When Burkhead was found, he had a sack of dead cats. He was recently convicted of cruelty to animals, Heard said.

He was then taken to another psychiatric ward, but he walked away again.

Jill Burkhead said her brother-in-law recently had slipped into deep depression, and "when he lost his job this last time it got worse."

Burkhead was taken to the Salina health center on Wednesday, but also fled from that hospital.

"It was unfortunate he didn't just take his own life," Jill Burkhead said.

Gurtner was returning to the Schwan's depot Thursday to head home to his wife, Traci, and four children.

Gurtner, who liked fishing and canoeing, was a "superb" employee who loved kids, said Todd Hammrich, a manager at Schwan's.

"There wasn't a kid in the world he didn't like and not a kid that didn't like him," Hammrich said. "He was the most respected guy at that depot and probably one of the hardest workers we had. It makes it tough."

Burkhead "wanted to commit suicide, and he picked a guy that wanted to live," Hammrich said. "That's the hard part."

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