McHENRY – Still on parole after serving more than a decade behind bars for a drunken crash that left a woman and her three children dead, Walter Depner was arrested Sunday evening and charged with DUI.
At 6:17 p.m., members of the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office were dispatched for a well-being check on a person who reportedly drove off the road in the area of 905 W. Rand Road/Route 120 near Lakemoor.
While deputies were en route, a second call was received about a man in a nearby home in the 500 block of North Boulevard. The homeowner said that Depner, 61, now of Mount Prospect, pulled his vehicle into the driveway, walked into the house, and then sat on the couch.
The homeowner recognized Depner as someone who used to live in the neighborhood.
Depner, who police said was upset, slurring his speech and looking intoxicated, told deputies that he and his girlfriend had gotten into an argument and he decided to take her car for a drive in his old neighborhood.
He was taken to Centegra Hospital – McHenry, where he remained Monday morning. Charges against him include driving under the influence, improper lane use, driving with a revoked license and driving an uninsured motor vehicle.
The vehicle police say Depner was driving had snow on a bumper and some minor damage, but no property damage was found on Rand Road.
The place where the car reportedly went off the roadway is near the site of the Aug. 21, 1999, crash that left four members of the Burleson family dead: Eva, 34; Daniel, 13; Tiffany, 11; and Dallis, 7.
Husband and father Thomas Burleson was the only survivor.
He said Monday that he wasn’t surprised by Depner’s arrest.
“I don’t feel like, ‘Thank goodness that happened,’ or ‘He’s getting his,’ “ Burleson said. “There’s none of that at all. I’m sad that he finds himself in this situation again.”
After being sentenced in 2003 to 14 years in prison, Depner was released on parole June 24, 2011, which Burleson said caused him some concern.
When his pleas for a new trial were denied, Depner had looked toward Burleson as officers locked his handcuffs and muttered, “You’ll get yours.”
Burleson, who lives in Crystal Lake, has remarried and has two young sons.
Originally from Texas, Burleson said he has lived in the area since 1994 and doesn’t want to move.
“I have roots here, and I really don’t want to feel obligated ... that I have to move my family out of a sense of an urge to protect them,” Burleson said. “I don’t want my wife to live in fear, and she does to a certain extent.”
Depner has had no contact with him, Burleson said, and that’s the way he wants it.
“I’ve worked really hard at not allowing that man to control my life,” Burleson said. “The anger I felt and what I wanted to do to him frightened me, and I don’t want to be that person anymore.”
At the time of Depner’s sentencing, Judge Sharon Prather called it “without a doubt the most egregious case of reckless homicide in the history of McHenry County.”
The crash occurred about 11 p.m. as the family was driving along Route 120 in Lakemoor after spending a day at Great America and then picking up the family dog from Eva Burleson’s mother’s house. The dog also was killed.
Depner’s minivan crossed the center line and crashed nearly head-on into the Burlesons’ Volkswagen minibus, ripping open the side.
Depner maintained his innocence, suggesting that Burleson had a seizure that caused the crash and later accusing an officer of fabricating an accident reconstruction report.
Depner also was charged with aggravated battery for urinating on an officer and a medical technician who tried to collect a urine sample in the hours after the crash. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years in prison, which was served concurrently.
“He is not somebody who was celebrating a promotion, or their kid getting into college, went to the local bar and had a beer and got in a crash,” Burleson said. “I do think this man is evil.”