Ex-Coyote Crossing director and drunk driver receives 24-year prison sentence (2024)

Ron WilkinsLafayette Journal & Courier

LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Rylan Burge's Sept. 18 birthday will never again be a day of celebration. Instead it will be a mournful day reliving the deaths of his mother, Kim Burge, and his best friend, Jaden Harvey, at the hands of drunk driver Brent Wills.

It will be the day he relives being medically decapitated — meaning his head was only attached to his body by his spine. He'll remember the weeks in the hospital after the crash as he fought his way back to become the rare 3% who survive those injuries.

“Actions have consequences," Rylan said during Wills' sentencing hearing inside a packed courtroom. "Mostly the consequences are given and deserved. Sometimes consequences are brought without reason.

“Did I do anything to cause the murder of my mother? No," Rylan rhetorically asked and answered. “Did I do anything to deserve the death of my best friend? Not at all.”

Wills sped through the intersection of Tippecanoe County Road 400 West at U.S. 52 about 9:25 p.m. Sept. 18 as Kim Burge, drove westbound back to Fowler after celebrating Rylan's birthday with his best friend, Harvey. Wills Jeep Grand Cherokee T-boned Kim's car at 62 mph, instantly killing her and Harvey and critically injuring Rylan.

Wills blood-alcohol content tested .248%, more than three times the legal limit, it was stated during the hearing to correct the erroneously reported .32%.

“It’s hard having everything you know stripped away from you," Rylan said. "Future plans and comfort turned into countless late nights. Staying up thinking of how you were forcefully thrown out of the life you want.

“Actions have consequences,” he repeated. "They all have consequences, and I ask that Brent accepts his.”

Rylan's comments were measured and controlled, especially for a teenager who's been so close to death. Other members of the Burge and Harvey family offered emotional comments that even struck at Wills, who at one point, sighed heavily as his shoulders slumped and his head bowed.

He composed himself before the next family member's victim impact statement, but he appeared rattled through much of the hearing.

The judge's comments and the sentence

“Two people were killed and one seriously injured by the selfish acts of the defendant,” Tippecanoe Superior 2 Judge Steve Meyer said.

“This irresponsible act of the defendant did not have to occur," Meyer said. "He had plenty of opportunities to avoid killing a 56-year-old mother, a 17-year-old boy and seriously injuring another 17-year-old boy, all who were out for the innocent purpose of celebrating a teenager’s birthday.”

Meyer detailed missed opportunities Wills had avoided the crash, starting with not drinking before heading to Indianapolis to a golf tournament. He could have taken a pass on the drinks and shots during the golf tournament. He could have abstained from drinking at the restaurant after the golf tournament. He could have taken up an offer to stay the night in Indy instead of driving home. He could have called an Uber. He could have stopped at a hotel along the way home. Even after he arrived in Lafayette, Wills stopped at another bar to have more drinks.

“Sadly, the defendant chose none of those options,” Meyer said.

Meyer sentenced Wills to 11 years in prison for Kimberly Burge's death, 11 years in prison for Harvey's death and six years in prison for the injuries to Rylan.

Meyer suspended four years of the 28-year sentence, ordering it be served on probation and two years on community correction.

That leaves Wills with a 24-year stint at an Indiana prison. With credit for good behavior, Wills will serve 18 years in prison.

Wills' apologies and letters to the families

On Monday morning, Wills' attorney, Brian Dekker, submitted letters of apologies Wills wrote to the families.

"It's absolutely gut-wrenching to me to know how drastically Rylan's life was changed that day, losing his mother and best friend right before his eyes on his birthday," Wills wrote to Rylan and the Burge family. "Please know that I, my family, and all that are close to me have been praying for you and your loved ones every day."

"And although my apologies and no amount of punishment may ever be enough to rectify what I have done, I do want to atone what I have done to your family by continuing to cooperate with the attorneys in the civil suits and adhering to any restitution that may be require by the courts," Wills wrote to the families.

Wills pleaded guilty May 20 to all eight charges, but because of double jeopardy issues, convictions were entered on only three counts. He's been jailed since the end of his change-of-plea hearing.

Reach Ron Wilkins at rwilkins@jconline.com. Follow on Twitter: @RonWilkins2.

Ex-Coyote Crossing director and drunk driver receives 24-year prison sentence (2024)


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