Driver in Wayne Township fatalities sentenced

Published 6:51 am Monday, June 9, 2003

By By MARCIA STEFFENS / Niles Daily Star
CASSOPOLIS -- The failure to stop at a stop sign in Wayne Township caused the tragic deaths of two young women and a 6-month-old baby.
Pictures of those who died following that July 7, 2002, accident were shown to Judge Michael E. Dodge in Cass County Circuit Court Friday by the parents of the women.
Charles Buford Burns Jr., now 20, of Howard Street, Three Rivers, was southbound on Atwood Road at 5:02 p.m. when he failed to stop at the stop sign at the intersection of Dewey Lake Street.
His son, Charles Buford Burns, was in a car seat, but Burns, his girlfriend Kasi Lynn Kline of Three Rivers, and her friend Shana Marie Godsey, 18, of Centreville, were not wearing seatbelts.
Burns' friend, Ronald Bolton Jr., then 18, was riding with a motorcycle in the back of the 1989 Toyota pickup truck.
The truck was hit by a 1996 Breakline semi tractor which was eastbound on Dewey Lake Street being driven by Gerald Lee Schuldt, then 52, of Dowagiac.
It was a "terrible, tragic day," said Prosecutor Victor Fitz. "We take for granted our driver's license …. driving is a life or death matter."
Her son, found under his mother's body, would be declared dead less than two hours later at Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo -- dead at six months, 10 days old.
With his wife Lenna Kline standing crying at his side, James Kline told the court of how his daughter glowed following the birth of her son. "She wanted so much to be a mother." And Charles, his grandson, had the same glow.
Of Burns, Mr. Kline said he "had a total disregard for cars and the destruction they can cause. I stressed to him every time," he added, but Burns continued to "drive as crazy as ever.
Their lives had "just begun when they were taken. Our lives will never be the same."
Due to a initial identification error, Shana's mother, Lana Jeffrey, was first told her daughter was dead at the scene.
At midnight, she learned Shana was in critical condition. She would die 20 days later at a Hospice House, of severe head trauma, never having regained consciousness.
She stood by Shana's step-father Jack Jeffrey, as he spoke to the court of "how hard it was getting up in the morning." He was also concerned about the lack of remorse by Burns.
Burns did not intentionally wish to hurt anyone and there is no indication of speeding or of any drug or alcohol use, said Dale Blunier, Burns' attorney, adding Burns, too, received injuries, including a closed head injury. "He has attempted suicide and has depression," added Blunier. "He has suffered." There was a no contact order with the victims, Blunier said, adding that Burns "is truly sorry."
Dodge who was concern about the "disturbing theme of lack of remorse." also outlined Burns' background which included driving while suspended and attempted resisting.
When negligent driving causes a death, "criminal prosecution doesn't allow for prison," he added. "There is no evidence this was intended."
Burns was sentenced to three years probation and 270 days in the Cass County Jail, with credit for one day. He is to pay probation fees, a $60 DNA fee, $60 to the Crime Victim's Fund, $450 court costs, $350 attorney fees and nearly $80,000 in restitution.
In other sentencings:
He is to pay a $60 DNA fee, and $60 to the Crime Victim's Fund.
He made an insanity plea after being charged with Criminal Sexual Conduct involving a six-year-old girl, but was found "not legally insane," Dodge said. He never paid fines and costs due and was not complainant with his probation. He was arrested at a motel in Knox, Ind. on April 3, 2003.
Leitch was sentenced to the Michigan Department of Corrections for 36 to 60 months, with credit for 365 days.