Oak Harbor man's cause of death is investigated

FREMONT The cause of death is still undetermined for an Oak Harbor man who stopped breathing shortly
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010

 

FREMONT

The cause of death is still undetermined for an Oak Harbor man who stopped breathing shortly after being zapped by a Taser.

Craig Burdine, 37, died Aug. 11 after Sandusky County Sheriff's deputies used a Taser on him three times -- twice on his legs and once in the back, according to reports.

After he fought with deputies -- including trying to bite and kick them -- the device was used in an attempt to subdue the man, law enforcement officials said. Burdine stopped breathing moments later and was pronounced dead at the hospital.

Dr. John Wukie, Sandusky County coroner, said it could be another month before anyone knows what caused Burdine's death.

"Toxicology studies need to be completed to determine his cause of death," Wukie said.

Jail personnel called for an ambulance when Burdine began vomiting. He was believed to be intoxicated, according to the Fremont police report.

The Sandusky County Sheriff's office is conducting an investigation that is expected to be completed once autopsy results are available, Sheriff David Gangwer said.

"I'm quite confident everything we did was OK," he said. "I'm sure it wasn't the Taser that killed him. I'm pretty confident of that."

But as family and friends of Burdine mourn his death, those who witnessed the fight that led to his arrest are in disbelief.

Craig Hiser, 42, of Fremont, was outside just after 3 a.m. when the incident happened. Hiser, who has trouble hearing, asked for his neighbor, Juan Levario, 51, to speak about the incident on Hiser's behalf.

According to Levario, Hiser walked across the street to talk to a friend near Burdine. A scuffle ensued between Hiser and Burdine with Hiser landing in an open fire.

"He was burning and he was on fire," Levario said. "There was blood everywhere."

Hiser sustained third degree burns to his legs and stomach, Levario said. He is going to St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center's burn unit to receive skin grafts later this month.

"He's pretty shook up about a lot of things, and plus he's hurting," Levario said.

Levario was inside his home when he heard a "big bang" and went outside to see Burdine bleeding and his basement window broken. Burdine and Hiser did not know each other, Levario said, adding that he and others there were not sure why Burdine was upset.

According to Burdine's father, Jess Burdine, 73, the 37-year-old suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder after a violent arrest in 1996. At that time, Burdine took legal action and sued the Port Clinton police chief and Ottawa County sheriff among others, according to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in Toledo.

Burdine was arrested in 1996 for a traffic incident and, when taken into the county jail elevator, he was placed in a choke hold by an officer "temporarily cutting off (his) air supply and causing him extreme alarm and discomfort," according to the lawsuit. Other law enforcement officials were in the elevator and did nothing to keep the officer from hurting Burdine, the lawsuit contended.

"It could have killed my client," said Tom Sobecki, attorney for Burdine in that case.

A jury trial awarded Burdine $600,000 in damages in 2000.

"To get that type of verdict from a jury ... it was outrageous what happened to him," Sobecki said.

Now an attorney for Burdine's family might take legal action depending on what information the autopsy report yields.

"While it is too soon to know exactly what happened, we intend to thoroughly investigate this matter and bring any and all claims on behalf of the Burdine family as may be appropriate," said Jeffrey Nunnari in an e-mail statement Tuesday.