Death of Alexander County sheriff's mother-in-law called 'a tragic accident'

Thursday, February 19, 2009

CAIRO, Ill. -- The Alexander County Sheriff Department called the death of Sheriff David Barkett's mother-in-law "a tragic vehicular accident" in a written statement issued Wednesday.

The woman had Alzheimer's disease according to a brief statement issued Wednesday afternoon by chief deputy Stephen W. Thomas. The statement said the woman lived next door to her son-in-law.

Barkett was responding to a domestic violence call in his squad car about 1:25 a.m. Wednesday and was backing out of the driveway of his Cairo home when he struck Mary Elizabeth Burnley, 87, according to the Illinois State Police. A state police team is investigating the incident, according to Trooper Bridget Rice, who said Burnley had been on foot and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Barkett called the Cairo Police Department after the incident and Cairo police called state police investigators. The Alexander County Sheriff Department was not called to the scene, according to an unidentified sheriff department employee who said Barkett is not currently on duty, "although he was at the time of the incident."

Rice said no charges had been filed against Barkett, and it was uncertain if any would be; she said she did not know what charges might apply but that if he was charged with anything, he would be presumed innocent until proven otherwise.

She said the team of state investigators includes a crash reconstruction specialist and that the team handles investigating "99.9 percent of fatal crashes in the region."

The mood at the Alexander County Courthouse, where the sheriff's department is located, was glum Wednesday afternoon. In Cairo's Historic Park District, where Barkett's and Burnley's homes are located, cars lined the street as family and friends arrived to comfort the family.

Burnley, whose husband died in 2006, is survived by her two children, their spouses, two granddaughters, two grandsons and one great-grandson.

pmcnichol@semissourian.com

388-3646

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