Marissa Burke: Woman with brain cancer says goodbye to 17-year-old daughter killed by drunk driver

HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS: A Texas mother fighting for her life in a hospital bed had to say goodbye to her daughter over the phone after she was fatally injured by a pickup truck driven by a “reformed” alcoholic.

Marissa Burke, 17, was walking home from school when she was struck by Leland Smith, 55, on November 14 on Georgia Avenue in Deer Park, Texas.

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Leland Smith, who claimed to be “reformed,” is a “serial” offender who runs a Christian recovery ministry.

Burke was hit by a van driven by Smith, 55, a serial offender who runs a Christian recovery ministry and claims to have overcome his own addiction issues, the Daily Mail reports.

Bailey Burke (KTRK)
Marissa Burke, 17, was walking home from school when she was hit (Facebook)

He failed a breathalyzer test at the scene and was charged with murder. He has a history of drunk driving and other crimes, including assault, burglary, theft and resisting arrest.

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Smith had DUIs in 2008 and 2009, injuring an elderly person. He was sentenced to 30 days and two years for this crime. He assaulted someone in 2017 and got another 30 days.

The charges were upgraded to felony murder. He is being held in the Harris County Jail on $100,000 bail. His next court appearance will be on November 27.

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Leland Smith (Deer Park Police)
Leland Smith Smith was involved in drunk driving in 2008 and 2009, injuring an elderly person. He was sentenced to 30 days and two years for this crime (Deer Park Police)

However, Smith reportedly claimed to be a reformed character in his LinkedIn profile, striving to help others achieve what he had.

“I have overcome my own problems with drug and alcohol addiction, and I enjoy using my experience to help others do the same,” he wrote.

“I have worked and served in the nonprofit sector since 2002. I love helping individuals and organizations achieve their mission goals,” he added. “My prayer is that in some way I can be of service to you too,” he continued.

Gloria Burke could only speak to her daughter Marissa Burke on loudspeaker

Marissa’s mother, Gloria, who is undergoing treatment for brain cancer, was able to “get out of the hospital…to see her daughter for as little time as possible.”

She managed to spend a day with him before being taken back to his hospital, but via loudspeaker, the media reported.

She could only hear her daughter’s voice on loudspeaker as her condition worsened and doctors gave her only a “1% chance of survival.”

However, she had to remain on life support given her young age and once the deadline was met and all scans and tests were completed, [doctors] “I removed the breathing tube and she left very peacefully,” said Marissa’s stepfather, Ryan Herring.

Ryan Herring (Facebook)
‘[Doctors] removed the breathing tube and she left very peacefully,” Marissa’s stepfather Ryan Herring said (Facebook)

“She was so brave. She didn’t move, she didn’t flinch,” said Ryan Herring, Marissa Burke’s stepfather.

Haerring then spoke about Marissa, saying, “She was so brave. She didn’t move, she didn’t flinch, it only took about five minutes and she was ready to go – we all knew that. “

Gloria was also heartbroken and devastated by the loss of her daughter, seen as a caring and mature young woman with a bright future ahead of her. Gloria, according to Herring, was readmitted to the hospital. He said Marissa’s sister witnessed the accident.

Bailey Burke (KTRK)
Marissa Burke’s sister
Bailey Burke witnessed his accident (KTRK)

The vehicle, he said, “entered the oncoming lane of traffic, climbed the curb and ended up on the sidewalk. Pinning her under her truck and against a pole.”

Marissa Burke’s family expresses anger and grief over driver’s senseless act

Herring, who according to the report has been in rehab for 12 years, expressed anger and grief over the tragic loss of her daughter-in-law. “For a man to take the life of an innocent in such a tragic and violent way, I cannot express how angry I am,” he said.

“We can’t do anything to bring Marissa back but we can do something to ruin her life,” added Bailey, Marissa’s sister.

Marissa planned to attend college after graduation and pursue a career as an occupational therapist, inspired by her mother’s battle with cancer.

Marissa was a “beautiful young woman with a wonderful sense of humor” by Herring. “She was always full of life and love for her friends and family,” the family wrote, adding “She was very mature and intelligent for her age, often seeing the world with adult eyes.”

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