Noted patrolman home for Christmas a month after motorcycle wreck
Officer Kolin Burmaster, a Beaumont Police Department motorcycle patrolman known for his strict but even-handed enforcement of traffic laws, was working Interstate 10 two days before Thanksgiving.
“I noticed these two motorcyclists pulled over. They waved me down, and they were from France,” Burmaster said. “They had rented motorcycles, I guess, from Florida - they had Florida tags on them - and I think they were just touring. I’m not sure.
“In their broken English they had said, ‘Where is the Cowboy Harley Davidson?’ and I thought, ‘OK, follow me.’ No problem.”
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Moments later, a devastating wreck landed Burmaster in intensive care for three days. The incident was front-page news, and the department was inundated with well wishes from people in the community who knew of “The Burmaster,” either by reputation or through first-hand experience.
He and his wife, Amanda Burmaster, spoke with the Enterprise about the wreck, the recovery and what the holidays are like this year.
He was released Dec. 14 from Kate Dishman Rehabilitation Hospital, where he received aggressive care for multiple broken bones and torn ligaments. At one point burly Marine veteran couldn’t move his right arm.
Burmaster, 66, is now back in the log-cabin-inspired lakeside home in Village Mills he shares with his wife, Amanda, 41. He gets around, for now, with a wheelchair, a walker and Amanda’s constant attention.
Yet he insists he will not let his injuries force him into retiring earlier than he’d planned.
Burmaster’s boss says the incident affirms his status among his colleagues and among the people of Beaumont.
“He can’t believe all of the support he’s been getting from the community,” Police Chief James Singletary said. “He’s just blown away by the support. People are calling and texting all the time to check on him, and that just tells you what kind of guy he is.”
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The police veteran is matter-of-fact about the Nov. 20 wreck.
“I got the Christmas lights up on Monday, and then the wreck took place on that Tuesday,” Burmaster said.
It happened near the College street intersection. As he led the way to the motorcycle shop, Burmaster saw what appeared to be a clean shot to merge into the left turn lane. Another car made a sudden move.
“This guy’s front end pops out between the vehicles into my lane, just that quick - nothing I could do,” he recalled. “Next thing I know I was upside down and I can’t breathe - I guess from the broken ribs.”
Watching his bodycam footage made him wince, but it’s given him clarity about what happened.
“The driver was cited. I had some verbiage for him in between deep breaths. If I had an opportunity to talk to him, first I’d probably apologize for the verbiage, but secondly I hope he’s learned not to automatically assume the coast is clear,” he said.
“But there’s no hard feelings. None at all. Accidents happen.
“If he’d been out a little bit further, I’m not sure where I’d have ended up. That door post is a pretty solid part of the vehicle — I don’t know.”
Burmaster said he was also thankful he was wearing his standard-issue safety gear.
“If I hadn’t have had my body vest on - my bulletproof vest — it could have been a different set of circumstances. Those ribs could have punctured my heart, punctured my lungs, just a lot of things,” he said.
Despite the extent of his injuries, Burmaster did not have to undergo surgery. His recovery has been difficult, but it’s been helped by the constant presence of his wife, a home-health nurse who rarely left his side then or since. The staff at Dishman got her a bed of her own so she could remain nearby.
Other than those Christmas lights, their home is devoid of holiday decoration. But the couple, who have been married for 10 years, seem to be in high spirits.
“I had seven broken ribs on the right side — two ribs were broken in two different places,” Burmaster said. “I have a fractured pelvis, and there is a medical term for the bone, but there’s a chipped bone somewhere in my right leg.”
“Your acetabulum,” Amanda clarified. “And your knee.”
“Both knees, but the right is really giving me a fit,” Burmaster said.
In addition to a torn meniscus in his right knee, Amanda Burmaster said, the rehab specialists suspect a rotator-cuff injury as well.
“When the bike hit, the front wheel immediately went left — hard. I’m still holding on to the handle bars so it just tore everything up in my right shoulder,” Burmaster said.
“There were a lot of people at the scene that tried to help,” Amanda Burmaster said. “They rushed in, really trying to help him.”
Burmaster said the bystanders wanted to move him, and he knew it was a bad idea.
“I guess I was kind of upside down, and I don’t know if my bottom was up on the car or what - I don’t know what the contortion was. ,” he said. “But I didn’t want them moving me because I thought, ‘If there’s something really seriously broken then I want to make darn sure that I’m doing the right thing here.’”
Officer Bobby Rector, who’d been riding with Burmaster earlier that day, heard about the accident on the radio and rushed to the scene. Once the paramedics got there a short time later, he left to find Amanda.
“The ambulance gets there and of course the first thing they want to do is cut my boots off,” Burmaster said. “And I’m just like, ‘Not the boots! Those are expensive.’ So I told them to just pull them off.”
“But they had to have something to cut, so they cut my pants off,” he added with a wry smile.
His good friends Sgts. Howard Trahan and Eric Wilson showed up.
“At that point I started to relax a little bit. I know they would make sure everything would be OK,” he said.
Rector, meanwhile, was struggling with how to break the news to Amanda.
“He’s trying to tell her, ‘He’s been in an accident, he’s OK.’ She says, ‘Well what do you mean by OK?’ and he goes, ‘Well, um … uh.’ He’s trying to come up with the right words and he says, ‘Well, he’s (grousing) about his motorcycle being damaged.’”
“That’s when I was like, ‘OK. He’s OK,’” Amanda said. “I didn’t know if he was unconscious or had a head injury or what, but when he said that, I thought, ‘Yep, that’s him. Complaining about the damages to the motorcycle.’”
When he started his outpatient rehabilitation at Frazier Physical Therapy in Silsbee, Burmaster said, the staff was pleasantly surprised
“She said, ‘Man, for everything that you’ve been through you’ve come a long long way,’ and it’s because of Dishman,” Burmaster said. “They worked me pretty good. It was twice a day, an hour and a half each time. It was like clockwork. They’re funny and easy to get along with and just a good group of people. I can’t speak highly enough of them.”
Amanda Burmaster said everyone they’ve interacted with has been amazing and supportive, from Singletary, who calls or visits every day, to fellow members of the BPD traffic unit, to everyone at the hospital — and not just the nurses and doctors.
“I was down in the cafeteria and there was this guy - I never introduced myself or anything - but word gets around and apparently, he knew who I was,” Amanda said. “Every time I’d go down there he’d make sure to ask how he was doing.”
Burmaster was apprehensive at first, given that he’d likely given some of his caregivers a citation or two.
“Sometimes the conversation isn’t pleasant on a traffic stop, and I was a little concerned about that,” he said. “But all of the people who I had written tickets to were very polite and they laughed about it. It made me feel a lot better.’”
His wife added, with a laugh: “I think I would have jabbed a needle in a little to hard, but they didn’t.”
Amanda Burmaster’s job as a nurse meant helping with her husband’s care came naturally, but he was still full of gratitude.
“It was nothing to her. It’s just what she does,” he said, his eyes welling. “But when you can’t do anything for yourself, and she helped me do everything, I’m so thankful for her.”
“I’m just thankful to be home for Christmas,” he added. “We’re celebrating life.”
Burmaster predicts he will be back patrolling the streets, likely in three to six months.
“I’d love to say I’d be back on a bike in 60 days, but I think realistically it’ll be 90 to 100 days,” Burmaster said.
“It’s really improving every day - as far as the mobility and the aches and the pains I have - but I don’t want to jump on that motorcycle and not be ready and push everything back again. So I’m doing everything exactly as I’m told.”
People have asked Burmaster if the accident has prompted him to consider retirement, but his response is always curt. He plans to work two more years.
“No,” he said. “No way. I have every intention at the end of 2020, but I’m going to retire my way. I don’t want to retire out on an on-job injury. I want to get back in the saddle where I belong and retire off the motorcycle.
“Now my guardian angels may ask for a transfer, but that’s just the way it’s going to be.”
“I think it’s the best job in Beaumont, I really do,” he said. “I mean, you get to experience the different fragrances each season as it changes, and every day is a different day. Most folks, they’re just really really nice people.”