Marshfield, MO – Webster County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) Sergeant Justin Burney was killed on Sept. 10, after another motorist crossed over an interstate median and crashed into his vehicle.
“This is the definition of a tragedy,” an emotional Webster County Prosecuting Attorney Ben Berkstresser told the Webster County Citizen the following day.
The 26-year-old, off-duty sergeant was traveling westbound on Interstate 44 with his young children when the crash occurred at approximately 3:50 p.m., according to the paper.
Justin Spearing, 35, was traveling eastbound in a 2004 Jeep Liberty, when he suddenly “traveled off of the left side” of the roadway, crashed through a median cable barrier, and crossed over the median, Missouri State Highway Patrol Corporal David Johnson said in the crash report.
Spearing’s vehicle slammed into Sgt. Burney’s 2015 Kia Soul, injuring the sergeant as well as his children, ages three and six, the Webster County Citizen reported.
Sgt. Burney was rushed to Cox Medical Center South, where he was pronounced dead at 4:25 p.m.
His critically-injured six-year-old daughter was transported to the same hospital by ambulance before she was later flown to a St. Louis-area hospital, the Webster County Citizen reported.
“I think she’s doing pretty good now,” Webster County Sheriff Roye Cole told the paper on Sunday. “Her injuries were very serious. It’s just going to be a long recovery.”
Sgt. Burney’s three-year-old son suffered minor injuries in the crash.
Berkstresser said that Spearing tested negative for alcohol use, according to the Webster County Citizen.
“He blew triple zeroes. There doesn’t appear to be any impairment,” the prosecutor explained. “Right now, we don’t know anything conclusively…It appears the driver (who struck Burney) may have fallen asleep. We don’t know that, but from what we’ve been able to piece together at this point, that’s what we’re looking at with this accident.”
Sgt. Burney’s law enforcement career began in 2014, when he was hired by the WCSO as a detention officer, the department said in a Facebook post.
The then-18-year-old landed the job after he sought out Sheriff Cole and asked him to bring him onboard, according to his obituary.
“Roye ask[ed] Justin if he thought he would be tough enough to work at the jail,” the tribute read. “Justin replied he was tough enough.”
Sgt. Burney went on to attend the police academy at Drury College in Springfield.
He began working as a WCSO deputy after his graduation, the department said.
“After serving as a Road Deputy, he wanted to better serve the community and decided to become a School Resource Officer for Marshfield Schools,” the sheriff’s office said. “He loved the kids and the kids loved him.”
Sgt. Burney briefly left the WCSO to serve as a Bolivar Police Department officer, but soon “found his way back to Webster County,” the department said.
“He quickly made his way up the chain of command, first being promoted to Corporal and then Sergeant,” according to the WCSO.
Sgt. Burney also played an integral role in the opening of the Webster County Justice Center, where he was tasked with training and implementing the jail’s new security system.
“Justin Burney was the most encouraging, helpful, kind-hearted person you could ever meet,” the WCSO’s tribute read. “He didn’t know a stranger and would do anything for anyone. His smile was contagious. You couldn’t be in a bad mood when he was around. Justin loved his family more than anything in the world.”
The young deputy was engaged to be married, and “was looking forward to a new life with [his fiancé] Shelby and his children,” Madilynn and Anderson, according to his obituary.
Sgt. Burney also leaves behind his parents, as well as his brother, nephews, grandparents, and many friends and extended family members.
Sgt. Burney was laid to rest on Wednesday.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Webster County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Justin Burney, both blood and blue. Thank you for your service.
Rest easy, hero. We’ll hold the line from here.