A Beech Island man who pleaded guilty Monday to his role in the death of a 38-year-old Fort Gordon Army surgeon received a 90-day sentence Tuesday, which he will serve on weekends. Daniel W. Johnson, 42, was sentenced to five years, suspended to 90 days for the October 2010 crash during which Johnson struck a group of bicyclists, including then-37- year-old Martinez resident and Fort Gordon orthopedic surgeon Maj. Matthew Burke, who died 128 days after the crash. Johnson was initially charged with reckless homicide but pleaded to the lesser included charge of involuntary manslaughter. On Oct. 1, 2010, Solicitor J. Strom Thurmond Jr. said in court, Burke was riding with 14 other cyclists on a straight stretch of road on Beech Island Avenue at 6:40 p.m. - a ride that he and his friends held as a weekly tradition for several years. The cyclists, who were following all applicable cycling laws, were riding in a line that extended approximately 100 feet, Thurmond said. Johnson was temporarily distracted by papers falling from his sun visor as he approached the group of cyclists causing him to take his eyes off the road, according to defense attorney Jim Huff. Johnson struck Burke, as well as four other bicyclists who were transported to Augusta hospitals. Thurmond said in court that Johnson gave several possible reasons for why he did not see the cyclists soon enough to avoid hitting them, including that the sun was in his eyes and that he dropped his sunglasses - options that the investigation found not to be plausible. Burke spent 128 days receiving treatment at what is now Georgia Health Services University and Fort Gordon's Eisenhower Army Medical Center, where he later died, with his mother and his wife each holding one of his hands. "...on Feb. 6, 2011, at Eisenhower Medical Center, Matt took his last breath. But Matt's life was actually taken from him - from all of us - on Oct. 1, 2010, on Beech Island Avenue," his brother, Paul Burke, read in a prepared statement. Matthew Burke is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. No drugs or alcohol were involved, Thurmond said. Before sentencing, Johnson addressed Bonnie, Matthew Burke's wife, and apologized for the impact on the Burke family, including Maj. Burke's daughter, Anna Ryan, who was 7-months-old. "Driving home on October 1, 2010, I never intended to hurt anyone. Because of this accident, you have lost your husband and your daughter her loving father. This has haunted me since that night and has changed both of our worlds forever," Johnson said. "There is no way to remove the loss you feel but maybe my plea today can begin to repair the damage I have caused." Johnson's father, Daniel H. Johnson, spoke on his behalf, telling the judge that his son, who has in the past volunteered as an EMT and a firefighter, and worked for Aiken County's HazMat team until shortly after his arrest, is a good man, and that the two prayed together about Burke regularly. Huff said that Johnson has struggled with the fact that, without any intent to cause harm, he ended a man's life. Burke's family flew in from Utah to attend the court proceedings. "Matt's service to our nation was interrupted and ended. Never again will Matt operate. Never again will he check in on a patient over a weekend. Never again will he mentor a colleague. Never again will he arrive with a case of beer to help a friend move. Never again will Matt answer his phone to offer counsel, support or advice to his friends and family. Never again will Matt look in Bonnie's eyes with love. He will never have the chance to learn to fly or to pursue his many other dreams and ambitions," Paul Burke said. "Today is not about atonement or absolution. It is a day of accountability." In addition to Johnson's jail time, he will be on probation for five years. He was also sentenced to community service, surrendered his license and is to have no contact with Burke's family.
Click here to read the full statement released by the Burke family.
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