Saturday, April 13, 2013

Drunk-Driving Bishop Update

Maureen Mangelt's funeral was today, at St. Albert the Great Catholic Church, in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.  Please remember her and her family in your own prayers.

Meanwhile, the story of her death remains a little fuzzy.'s Doug Erickson is keeping tabs, and we're going to rely on him. 

Bruce Burnside, the ELCA bishop who struck her with his car, has been arrested and charged with three felonies -- "homicide by intoxicated use of a vehicle, homicide by negligent operation of a vehicle and hit-and-run causing death" -- and a misdemeanor hit-and-run charge.  He is accused of striking another car after he hit Mangelt.   Burnside has entered a residential treatment program.

Surveillance video from a nearby bar is said to show the accident; in addition, there are five eyewitnesses.  Video and witnesses all agree that Burnside was moving fast, and did not stop after he hit Mangelt.

At his hearing, Burnside agreed to surrender his passport, to convince the judge that he is not a flight risk. While in jail, he was kept separated from the general population, because of concerns for his safety.

Now, here is where the fuzziness comes in.

First, there is the question of why Burnside tried to keep going after he hit Mangelt.  Was he trying to escape completely?  Simply to get off the exit ramp where the accident occurred, to prevent a pileup?  Or was he so impaired, and traveling so fast, that he could not stop his car?

Second, there is the fact that he lied to the police, and told them that he had not been drinking. The police have revealed that his preliminary blood alcohol count was .128.  The legal limit is .08.  You can punch the numbers into this BAC calculator yourself, but it basically suggests that, depending on his weight and how long he had been drinking, Burnside had put away the equivalent of four to six glasses of wine.

This raises the question of what Burnside had been up to that day -- of how, exactly, a bishop gets drunk on Sunday.

At the hearing, his attorney declined to say where Burnside was coming from.  Erickson reports that
At the time of the crash, Burnside was headed from Madison to Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Sun Prairie, where he was to preside over a 3 p.m. church ceremony,
But in another story, he also says:

Burnside was [scheduled] to be the guest speaker at an informal talk session between Sunday services at Peace Lutheran Church [in Waunkaee] .... [but an] announcement was made during the second church service that Burnside had called to say he was unable to attend due to being sick....

For the record, Sunday services at Peace are 8 and 10:30.  So, sometime in the morning, Burnside felt -- or said he felt -- unable to get out; and yet five hours later, he was racing to Sun Prairie.  Drunk.

Assuming that all this is true, it is hard to imagine what Burnside's day was like.

Our first, and most charitable, assumption was that he had been at worship somewhere, shared a little fellowship with the congregation afterward, and found himself just a smidge over the limit.  That is emphatically not the case.  He was drunker than that, and had bailed on his commitment to at least one congregation.

Frankly, the other possibilities range from bad to awful.  We won't actually type any of them out, because we don't want to prejudice anybody with our fertile imagination.  But they're ugly.

Among Lutheran pastors, this story has created a lot of noise, as you wold expect.  We'll write more about that later.  For now, though, we are hoping for more and clearer information, and we believe that Mr. Erickson is our best bet for that.

1 comment:

Mark Christianson said...

The "3 p.m. church ceremony" was, according to the website of the Sun Prairie congregation, a commissioning service for a member of their staff who was becoming an Associate in Ministry. The new AIM has been on the congregation's staff for a number of years, the website says. That might go some ways toward explaining why the bishop thought it necessary to be there, despite his inappropriate state. Or maybe it just adds something to the already deeply tragic nature of what happened that afternoon. There is nothing about this that doesn't cause the heart to ache.