Family sues, says Burdine's death a homicide

FREMONT Craig Burdine's death was a homicide, a medical expert says. Burdine, 37, of
JACOB LAMMERS
May 24, 2010

FREMONT

Craig Burdine's death was a homicide, a medical expert says.

Burdine, 37, of Oak Harbor died Aug. 11 after Sandusky County Sheriff's deputies shocked him three times with a Taser.

Sandusky County Coroner Dr. John Wukie ruled Burdine's death was an accident, and he died from "combined drug intoxication" and a "drug induced excited delirium."

But Dr. Michael M. Baden, director of the Medicolegal Investigations Unit of the New York State Police, contends Burdine died from "asphyxia as the result of a severe neck compression by one of the officers who restrained him."

Baden, former chief medical examiner of New York City, was hired by attorney Jeffrey Nunnari of Toledo to review the toxicology and final autopsy report. Nunnari is representing Burdine's father, Jess Burdine, in a lawsuit filed Thursday in Sandusky County Common Pleas Court against Wukie.

In the lawsuit Jess Burdine is asking the court to order a hearing to determine the appropriateness of Wukie's ruling, to order the coroner "to change his verdict to reflect the actual cause, manner and mode of Mr. Burdine's death to asphyxia by strangulation through the commission of a homicide" and to grant "any other relief as may be just and proper."

"I want to give Craig's side of the story," Jess Burdine said. "Somebody did this to him. I have trouble sleeping at night because I mulled this over at night. He didn't die from this. They killed him."

The incident began when Burdine "launched onto" a 32-year-old Fremont man during a party at a home on Sycamore Street in Fremont, according to a police report. He then ran "into a few fences, damaged some vehicles and houses," police said.

Burdine fought with police and sheriff's deputies -- including trying to bite and kick them -- following his arrest, authorities said. He was shocked by a Taser three times as officers tried to subdue him.

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

Burdine had extensive bruising and abrasions on his body when he died, according to the final autopsy report.

The initial autopsy report indicated Burdine died from a combination of drugs and his actions resulting from that drug use.

According to the lawsuit, Baden determined the "drug and alcohol levels contained in (Burdine's) blood as indicated in the toxicology report are insufficient to cause death, and that there is no evidence to support a finding of excited delirium."

"Dr. Wukie is covering up homicide," Jess Burdine said. "I believe he knowingly put down drugs and alcohol, and it has caused myself and my family tremendous pain and suffering."

Jess Burdine added that one of his sons suffered a heart attack as a result of the circumstances surrounding Craig's death.

Wukie's secretary said the coroner was not available and declined to comment because the case is in litigation.

Sandusky County Sheriff David Gangwer declined comment and referred all questions to the county's Toledo attorney, Teresa Grigsby.

"I am confident that Dr. Wukie's determination of cause of death is accurate," Grigsby said. "I have seen the reports from the expert retained by (Jess) Burdine, and I disagree with it.

"There's no basis for criticism of the sheriff's office."

Grigsby said another lawsuit is expected to be filed against the county.

Jess Burdine said he plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit in the Sixth District Federal Court in Toledo in mid-July.

Nunnari did not return calls seeking comment.