Devyn Burke- Fatal Impact

Families mourn the loss of a beloved teenager and the loss of a man sent to prison for 12 years.

 

  

Photos by Keith Carson
Story by Debbie Carson
2nd place News Story
Fla. Press Association
2007 Better Weekly Awards
Community News Publications Staff Writer

   The family of 16-year-old Devyn Marie Burke can finally sleep soundly now that the man who left the Northdale girl to die on US 41 is firmly behind bars for at least nine years.

   Micah Steven Azbill, now-31, was sentenced to spend the next 12 years in the state penitentiary and will never again be allowed to have a Florida driver's license. He will also serve three years under community control after his release and perform 200 hours of community service.

   He could have been sentenced to a maximum of 15 years in prison or to a minimum of 22 months. Based on state law, Azbill would be required to serve at least 85 percent of his 12-year sentence - about 10 years - and get credit for the 11 months he has spent in the Hillsborough County jail - putting his prison sentence closer to nine years. He could be 40 when he's out of prison. His daughter, now 8, could be 17 by then.

   "You struck a human being in a horrible crash," Judge Emmett Lamar Battles said while handing down his sentence. "You knew you had struck her. You were not only aware of this but made a conscious decision to leave the scene. This court is convinced you are a danger, sir."

   Why the Land O' Lakes floor installer left a girl dead or dying on a Lutz highway was never completely answered by Azbill. The man who authorities said should not have been driving had 21 citations since 1993.

   "I'm legal. I had no reason to run," Azbill testified before his sentence.

* * *

   His sentence ended six hours of lengthy and tearful testimony from scientific and law enforcement experts and several family members and friends.

   The sentence also ended a nearly yearlong chapter for the Burke and Azbill families after Micah Azbill struck and killed Devyn Burke as she tried to cross US 41 near Dennison Road on March 17, 2006 - St. Patrick's Day.

   "I think I will sleep tonight," said Devyn's grieving mother, Shawn Burke of Northdale, outside the courtroom after Judge Battles sentenced Azbill.

   "It's more than I thought he was going to get," Burke said of his sentence. "I'm happy."

   Not long before the sentence came down, Burke's emotions were different.

* * *

   Shawn Burke was one of seven people who took the stand and spoke on behalf of Devyn, pleading with the judge for justice for Devyn.

   "I don't want to become angry," Burke told the judge with a shaky voice, "but I can't help it."

She showed Judge Battles a framed picture of her with Devyn.

   "This is one of my treasures," she said, telling the judge that all she has now are photos and memories.

   Burke told the judge that she wears a vial filled with Devyn's ashes around her neck everyday as a way to remain close to her eldest daughter. She has a daughter Kyndell Lopez who was 6 when Devyn died.

   She has also paid tribute to her daughter with a new tattoo on her upper left shoulder - two angels forming a heart. Inside the heart, the tattoo reads: "In loving memory - Devyn 6-13-89 to 3-17-06."

   Judge Battles sat on his bench looking at Burke and all the others who testified for Devyn with a face that was hard to read. He left the audience wondering just what type of sentence Azbill would get.

* * *

   Morgan Schmidt, who considers herself Devyn's honorary cousin, was the first to testify on behalf of the teen.

   Friends for about nine years, Schmidt told Judge Battles that Devyn was a sweet girl who didn't deserve to die young.

   She also asked the judge how he would prevent Azbill from breaking the court's order since he has shown that he has no respect for the law.

* * *

   Quiet gasps escaped tired faces sitting in the audience as Public Defender James Siegfreid called Micah Azbill to the stand to testify on his own behalf.

   Spreading a prepared statement out on a desk, Azbill planted his manacled hands on either side of the wrinkled piece of paper and leaned over. Staring directly at the words on the paper, he read:

"I would like to express my deepest apologies. If there were anything I could do to make this all go away, I would do it in a second."

   His body seemed to shake slightly as he read his statement. His sentences punctuated with sobs.

He said he was sorry for causing "great turmoil" and that he could only guess at the pain of losing a child.

   "I would never minimalize" the case, Azbill continued. He said that he should have done what he was supposed to do - stay at the scene of the crash.

   "I am truly sorry," he finished. "I'm so sorry."

Devyn's side of the courtroom sniffled and hummed in anger - a low level growl almost escaping their throats. Prosecutor Kim Seace had warned the crowd earlier about maintaining decorum. No outbursts.

   The courtroom audience seemed to be divided very much like the way guests are seated at a wedding. Azbill's family and supporters sat nearest the Public Defender's desk, while Devyn's supporters sat opposite, behind the prosecutor.

   Azbill's side of the courtroom wept as he voiced the sorrow they, too, felt for Devyn's family.

* * *

   Prosecutor Kim Seace peppered Azbill with questions regarding why he was out on the road that night.

   Azbill finished reading his statement and had wiped his eyes.

   "You knew you shouldn't be driving, correct?" she asked Azbill. She reminded him of previous statements when he had said he got off work around 4:30 p.m. - more than 5 hours before the crash.

   "I didn't want to drive drunk," he replied, not answering her question.

Seace pointed out that he had a business license - one that restricts him to drive from home to work and back again.

   The license, she said, did not allow him the privilege to drive someone home and stay at the person's home to play cards and drink beer. Azbill had testified to that during depositions.

Azbill said he thought that driving a friend home from work was business related and did not think it violated his restrictions.

   "It was in my better judgment to not drive drunk," he said. He had two or three beers at his friend's house, stopping at about 6 p.m. Azbill said he waited at his friend's home until he sobered up before heading for his own home.

   "You knew you hit a person, right?" Seace asked, putting the question a different way.

After a long pause, Azbill said, "Yes. It wasn't an animal or a car."

   Seace asked if he remembered hitting a male or female. He said he couldn't recall.

   "It happened so quick," he said. Seace refreshed his memory. She pointed to a passage in one of his recorded statements that he told officers that he saw pink clothing.

Muffled sobs filled the silence in the courtroom.

Seace asked Azbill what he did after the collision - if he drove to the Hess gas station down the road.

   Azbill said he did go to the gas station and got out of the car and looked at the damage.

Did you notice the windshield? Seace asked, holding up a photograph of the severely damaged vehicle.

   "Couldn't help but notice the windshield," was the reply.

   She asked him about the view through the windshield, so woven with cracks that it would be almost impossible to see through from behind the steering wheel.

   "Heh, heh, heh, I guess so," came Azbill's chuckled answer.

Friends of Devyn bristled with anger after hearing his near-laugh. Some mumbled disbelief in his seeming casualness toward the crash, minutes after what had appeared to be his heart-felt apology.

   Seace then spent the next several minutes grilling Azbill on why he never called authorities to report the crash. She pointed out numerous opportunities that he never acted on.

   "When I'm in shock, when someone dies in front of my eyes, it's kind of tragic," Azbill said, his voice slightly raised in frustration.

   Seace asked if Azbill's prior driving history had played a role in his decision to leave the scene.

Azbill has received at least 21 traffic-related citations and convictions since 1993, according to his record.

   Seven of his citations were for driving with a canceled, suspended or revoked license - two of which resulted in felony convictions.

   He has also been cited for running five stop signs or red lights, speeding five times, driving carelessly twice, and being involved in two crashes - though the record did not show if he had been the at-fault driver.

   He said that his record didn't enter his mind.

   "I'm legal. I had no reason to run."

* * *

   As with Devyn's side, Azbill's friends and family were given an opportunity to address the court.

Micah Azbill's father, Paul, was the first to address Judge Battles. With an even tone, Paul Azbill told the court that he and his wife would be willing to take Azbill in for community control - probation. He also told the judge that he has been a pastor in the Land O' Lakes area since 1994 and has spent 50 years in ministry.

   Paul Azbill did not take the opportunity to speak on behalf of his son, as Micah Azbill's sisters did.

* * *

   Azbill's eldest sister, Paula Hout, apologized to the court and Devyn's side for the actions of her "much younger" brother.

   "I wanted to say I'm deeply sorry," Hout said, her words choking in her throat. "We are truly, deeply sorry."

   Hout also told the court that Azbill has an 8-year-old daughter, who presumably lives with her mother.

   She said that she knew Azbill was on prescription medications - an antibiotic and a painkiller, which she thought was Vicodin.

   Public Defender asked Hout if their family has ever suffered the loss of a family member.

   She said that one of their sisters died from carbon monoxide poisoning.

   "He was devastated," Hout said of her brother when their sister died.

* * *

   Tammy Jones, another sister and Jones' wife, told Judge Battles that theirs is a very tight-knit family. Everyone comes over to the house on Sunday for a family dinner.

   "I know my brother never would have done anything on purpose," she said, turning to look at Devyn's side of the courtroom. Many of Devyn's friends shook their heads in disagreement.

* * *

   The six hours of testimony ended with a 10-minute break that dragged on for 15 minutes as Judge Emmett Lamar Battles deliberated in his chambers.

   For those 15 minutes, the weight of the judge's decision hung heavily on the audience. Some in Devyn's camp wondered if their own testimony was strong enough to convince the judge to sentence Azbill to the maximum 15 years in the state prison.

Others wondered if the doctors' testimony was enough to cast a shadow of doubt on Azbill's mental acuity.

   Friends and family passed around scrapbooks and photos of Devyn. They spent the last few minutes of the hearing hoping that Devyn would finally get the justice they had fought for.

* * *

   Twelve years in prison. Followed by three years of probation and 200 hours of community service. Never to have a Florida driver's license again.

   "I can deal with 12 years," Shawn Burke, Devyn's mother said, outside the courtroom after the sentence was handed down.

   "It makes a statement," Devyn's aunt, Heather DeCoeur said.

* * *

   "All agree this is a tragedy for all involved," said Judge Battles.

   "I'll never have her back," said Devyn's mother, Shawn Burke.

   But she will have some peace of mind - now that the man who killed her daughter will never be allowed on the road again.