Featured Photo – Garrett death

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 22, 2013

A wooden cross stands near the location at Old Panola and Pegram roads where Gary Burdette was run down by a vehicle in Sept., 2009. The Panola County Sheriff’s Department wants to know more about the murder.

Garrick Donnell Burdette — Gary — was 41 when he was killed. Investigators hope that someone will come forward with new information that will bring the family closure in their loss.

Investigators seek help in 2009 hit and run

By John Howell

The long stretch of Old Stage Coach Road between Highways 315 and 310 is dark and little traveled at midnight.

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That was the way Panola County Deputy Sheriff Billy Lambert found it late on a Friday night/Saturday morning almost four years ago. The road bed often sinks low between high banks on either side suggesting that it is an old route, long used.

And it is. The first horse-drawn stagecoaches through the county followed the same roadbed from Hernando to the old river town of Panola.

But if these thoughts were on Deputy Lambert’s mind that night as he drove north and topped the rise approaching the Pegram Road intersection, they were quickly put aside when he noticed first a car that had paused a little longer than seemed necessary at the Pegram Road stop sign. At almost the same time, he saw something else — something lying in the roadway about 50 feet past the intersection.

“He went on by at a pretty good clip,” Lambert recalls of the car as it left the intersection. The car’s wheels had spun as they sought traction when the driver turned south onto Old Panola Road, heading towards Lambert. When the driver got near enough to recognize that it was a law enforcement vehicle, he slowed up, the deputy continued.

For a split second, Lambert said, he considered turning around to investigate the vehicle whose driver’s actions had sparked his interest.

But as he drew closer to the object lying in the roadway, Lambert soon realized that he had more urgent responsibilities.  

Brutal discovery

“Oh, my God! That’s somebody!” he said, recalling the brutal realization. The object lying in the roadway was a man who had apparently been struck by a vehicle. Lambert quickly checked for breathing and pulse but found none, his report states.

“At one point I thought I saw the victim take a breath,” Lambert’s report continues. “I checked again but found no signs of life.”

The life lost that night — September 12, 2009, at 12:41 a.m. — was that of Garrick  Donnell Burdette, of 86A Hemingway Road, Sardis. He was 41.

The investigation into Burdette’s hit and run death found little headway in 2009. Now, Chief Deputy Chris Franklin has ordered further investigation, making Burdette’s cold case a priority, sheriff’s department investigator Bryan Arnold said.

“This man was a citizen of this county and he deserves the attention that anyone else would get,” Lambert said.

What investigators know

Investigators have pieced together a few details from Burdette’s last night alive. He had left his mother’s house at the Hemingway Road address looking forward to the evening and dressed sharply, investigators learned.

Burdette was known often to walk, but whether he left his mother’s house that evening on foot or by car is not certain. Further investigation has confirmed that Burdette was seen in Como around midnight — about 40 minutes before Lambert found his body lying in the southbound lane of the road. The distance from Como would have been impossible to cover on foot, leading investigators to conclude that someone gave him a ride at least part of the distance.

Vehicle was damaged

Evidence from the scene and from the autopsy performed on Burdette’s body indicate that he probably went underneath the vehicle after the initial impact, Arnold said. The impact was significant, Arnold continued, breaking the vehicle’s radiator and forcing its bottom front end into an impact which left marks in the pavement.

“They had to have known,” Lambert said. “There was radiator fluid all over the road.

So investigators believe that a vehicle was repaired following Burdette’s death. The driver may have taken it to a body shop “and said they hit a deer,” Lambert said.

Car and driver of interest

Then there was the curious behavior by the driver of the car that Lambert saw as he neared Burdette’s body.
The deputy said he does not believe that it was the car that struck Burdette. He noticed no damage — though he said he cannot be positive — on the car that turned south on Old Panola that night, but he thinks that whoever was in that car might have seen something. He saw the side of the car before it turned toward him, Lambert said. From the best he could tell, that car resembled a 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass.

Investigators said they have wondered aloud whether the driver of the hit-and run vehicle may have initially thought he or she had struck a deer. Or whether the driver had been drinking and panicked, leaving the scene rather than face the serious charge that would stem from a driving-under-the influence death.

“Somebody has said something to somebody, and it’s gotten around,” the investigator said.

Reward for information

Investigators are willing to pay reward money to anyone who provides useful information. One way to collect money for information is to call Crime Stoppers of North Central Miss. at 800-729-2169. The caller does not have to give his or her name.

Another way is simply to call the Panola County Sheriff’s Department at 563-6230. Speak with Investigator Arnold, Deputy Lt. Lambert or with any deputy of the caller’s choice. Any deputy will handle the information confidentially, Arnold said.

Closure sought

Then there’s somebody carrying a burden of guilt waiting to be unloaded.

“I just want to know what happened,” said Burdette’s mother, Ruby Ellis. She and Burdette’s father, Curtis Ellis, are among survivors who wait and wonder. “I’m holding nothing against nobody,” Mrs. Ellis continued. “God got me through and He’s still holding me through. I just can’t bring a closure to it.”

“Whoever did this, it’s weighed on them,” Arnold said.

“There comes a time when you’ve got to own up to what you’ve done,” Lambert added.