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Drunken driver found guilty in son's death

Published Sep. 10, 2005

A 40-year-old father of two was found guilty Thursday of driving drunk when he caused a car crash that killed his 6-year-old son.

A jury convicted Francis L. Burns, 40, of vehicular homicide, DUI manslaughter, and DUI with serious bodily injury for driving under the influence with his two young sons in his car in November 1999.

Burns was driving his two boys, Koal, 6, and Flint, 4, home from his mother's house in Manatee County on Thanksgiving weekend when he lost control of his car. Witnesses said Burns swerved to the side of the road in the northbound lane of Interstate 75 in Hillsborough County, and then cut across three lanes of traffic before crashing into a highway piling.

Koal Burns, 6, died of massive head injuries; Flint, 4, suffered a broken collarbone.

"It was a very, very sad case," said Assistant State Attorney Terryn Burnett.

Before the crash, the children went to a hospital to visit Burns' father, who would die a few days later from cancer. Witnesses said Burns did not go with the family to the hospital. Instead, he went to a bar, they said.

The boys' mother was in Polk City, waiting for her children to return home from a weekend with their dad. The couple were divorced, and it was Burns' weekend to be with his sons.

Experts for the state estimated that Burns' blood-alcohol level at the time of the crash would have been between 0.14 and 0.15, according to prosecutors. Florida law presumes a person to be impaired at 0.08 or higher.

Burns could face up to 15 years in prison for the DUI manslaughter conviction, and five years for the other DUI conviction. Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett will sentence him on Aug. 20.