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Travis Burns

All of my life I grew up surrounded by my family. My entire family was no more than a 15 minute drive from my house at any given time. Since I grew up with 3 sisters, I often clung to my Cousin Travis as the only “brother” figure in my life. He took fondly to the role. We were born 25 days apart, me on November 2nd and him on the 27th. This meant that we were in every grade together at the same schools until we graduated together in 2006. During childhood, we spent a lot of time together. As a young boy, Travis showed a passion for helping and caring for animals. He was interested in everything from a worm to a giraffe and he wanted to save them all. When Travis was 12, he began breeding, raising and selling Bearded Dragons and even started his own Company “Sunfire Dragons” which he had incorporated. He was then inducted into the International Reptile Breeders Association… at 12 years old. At 15, Travis began volunteering at Helen Woodward Animal Shelter and at 16, he was hired there to help with fundraising efforts. He planned many activities and hit record numbers for the non-profit rescue center. Travis also loved Sports, deep sea fishing, muscle cars and high performance motor sports. As you can see, he was a man of many passions!

Travis and I were never closer than when we were in our early twenties. I had come back from college to have surgery and during that time Travis and I really connected. I was in an improv group in downtown San Diego and Travis came to all of my performances to cheer me on. We drove around town in his cool cars with the windows down singing our favorite country tunes. We got Mexican food and ice cream and ate it on the beach together. Those were the best memories that I have of him.

In 2011, Travis moved to New Orleans to pursue a career at the autobahn Zoo. There, he was working on enhancing the housing and habitats for animals to optimize life-span and quality. We had never seen him happier than when he was in New Orleans doing what he loved and although we all missed him, we knew it was right. Little did we know that the place that brought him genuine happiness would also bring his untimely death.

It was the night before Christmas Eve. Travis went out with some friends from work to celebrate Christmas before the days off. Around 1am, Travis left his friends to go home for the night. On his way home, he ran out of gas less than 3 blocks from his house. He had a gas can in his trunk which he gathered and then started the short walk to the gas station. He was walking down what Louisiana refers to as a “causeway.” It has a one way street on each side with a large ditch between each way. Travis was walking on the side of the road when a car came his way. Before he had a chance to react, the car hit him at full speed. His body flew over the car and landed several feet away. The driver of the car did not stop. They fled the scene immediately and left him to die. Travis was left in the street for 30 minutes. At that time the driver hid the car, had another drink at a bar down the street and then walked back to the scene. The driver then called 911 acting as if she was the Hero that found him. It took police and the ambulance 15 minutes to arrive and Travis did not make it to the hospital until 51 minutes after being hit. By this time, his fate was sealed. But it would take us 8 more days to find that out.

When Travis was hit, I was in Oklahoma meeting my then Fiance’s family for the first time over Christmas. I was sleeping when I got the call. It was about 3am and when I woke up to the vibration of my phone, I knew it wasn’t good. It was my mom calling. I answered the phone and all she said was “Travis was hit by a car.” Slightly drowsy, I had no clue what was going on. She then explained that Travis was hit by a car and he was in the hospital. His Dad and my Grandma were on their way to New Orleans to be at his side. She told me that she would have more information in the morning. I hung up the phone and started to pray. At this time, we had no idea what happened. No one knew where it was, who did it or why he was walking on the street. I tried to go back to sleep but had little luck with the overwhelming knowledge that something was wrong.

The next 8 days were filled with up’s and downs. He had a subdural hematoma (bleeding on brain) requiring emergency surgery.  They removed most of the bone on R side of head to get it to bleed & allow the brain to swell.  He also had broken bones in his Right leg but he wasn’t stable so they couldn’t perform surgery yet which would require a metal rod.  They didn’t want to move him at all – even for a CT scan – and they were concerned about his spine.  He would need plastic surgery for lacerations on face, we were told he had “bruised lungs & heart” & had ‘road rash’ from navel to chin -all over his right side chest and other places.

The most concerning issue at that point was his brain. When someone suffers a brain injury there are several test that they do to determine if there is any brain function. They check to see if your limbs react to touch or tense up, and they check your pupils. Christmas Day came around and there was a slight response in pupils where there was none before. This was amazing news for our family and we really thought that things were going to turn around. Since I couldn’t be in New Orleans, I recorded something for my Grandma to play in his ear. What do you say to someone who might die?

Then the next day, his reactions for even less. And then every day after that, it only got worse.

On New Year’s Eve we were told that the traumatic injuries to his brain were too severe and he would never recover. My Grandma, being a nurse wanted to see proof and requested an MRI before we let him go. The MRI results showed that his brain was so swollen that it was separating from the brain stem and there was no hope for recovery. We had the answer that it was time to let him go.

They started the Versed IV which ensured he felt no pain or anxiety.  His respirations on life support were 31 – when they get down to 10 they removed life support. At 1:54pm on New Year’s eve, Travis succumbed to his injuries and died.

Throughout this entire ordeal, the person that hit him was still at large. We had no idea who it was and we were painting the town with Reward posters. My uncle, Travis’s Dad, went around to every business to pass out the posters. He went into a bar down the street from where the crash occurred. He talked to the bartender and asked him to let us know if he heard anything. The bartender told my uncle that the person who found him on the street was actually at the bar at that time (she was a regular) and he introduced them. My Uncle thanked her profusely, hugging her and updating her on Travis’s condition. Never knowing that SHE was the person that hit him.

Our efforts paid off when she tried to take her car to an auto body shop claiming it had been vandalized and the owners found Travis’s hair embedded in the windshield. They called the police and as the police were there inspecting the car and taking the report, she showed up to retrieve something from her vehicle. She was arrested on the scene and charged with negligent homicide, obstruction of justice, Hit and run and injuring public records. Sentences that could total up to 30 years in Prison. Her name is Jennifer and she is 25 years old. This was her second DUI. Her family bailed her out and she was placed on house arrest with an ankle bracelet until September of 2015. From January to September, my family worked closely with the District Attorney’s office for a plan of attack. She hired a lawyer and we were ready to go to trial. Right before the trial was scheduled for Jury selection, Jennifer’s Lawyer recommended she take a plea deal. Since she was found days after the crash, we were unable to detect her blood alcohol level which made it nearly impossible to detect how drunk she was. However, if we went to trial, we were prepared with witnesses that were at the bar with her to prove her level of intoxication. It was smart for her to plead guilty and skip a trial. On the day of the sentencing, only a few of my family members were able to fly to New Orleans to represent Travis in the court room. They all read Victim Impact Statements and told the judge what punishment they felt was necessary. When the time came for Jennifer to speak, she said, “I’m so sorry I took him from ya’ll. I failed so many people including myself, and I’m ready to give Travis the justice he deserves.”

My family that attended felt that she was sincerely sorry and that she felt a great deal of remorse. That day, in the court room, they forgave her. My entire family hugged her.

The judge sentenced Jennifer to 15 years in prison for vehicular homicide. She suspended 10 years and ordered Jennifer to serve five years in prison, including three without benefit of probation or parole. That means that she will most likely only spend 3 years in prison.

Not seeing her or feeling the remorse that she exhibited made taking the short sentence much more difficult for me. I was extremely angry. I was confused and felt that the system had failed Travis. It’s taken me a while to reach peace and I still struggle with it today.

In the minutes that Jennifer chose to drink and then drive, she changed my entire life. Nowadays, I hate driving. My commute to work is 28 miles and I have anxiety the entire way. I used to walk on the sidewalk during my lunch hour to spend time outside and get some exercise, but I don’t do that anymore. I avoid walking near the street at all costs. I live in constant fear that my husband will die. I make him text me when he is leaving somewhere and the second he arrives. If I feel the time is too long between texts, I call him thinking he is dead. The other night I even had a dream that a drunk driver hit him and caused his car to wrap around a pole. The fear is constant. It never goes away. Driving is something I cannot avoid and sometimes I feel that the fear is something I will never get away from.

We will never know what Travis would have become. We will never know how the world could have been changed with his impact. He is gone forever and we will never see him again. People say that time makes things easier but that’s hard to believe. The hardest thing for me is it’s not the memories with Travis that I miss but the future that I know I will never have all due to a 100% preventable crime.

All we have left is a cross in the place that he was hit. We hope that this cross will impact others to make better choices.

I miss Travis every day and when I have to drive, I talk to him often. I tell him about my wedding that he missed by 4 months. I tell him about my husband who he never met and every day that I take that drive to work, I do it for him. I am grateful that I have been given the opportunity to work with MADD to end drinking and driving so that no other family has to suffer like mine has.