Police: Lutheran bishop was intoxicated behind the wheel when he hit, killed woman

2013-04-09T08:55:00Z Police: Lutheran bishop was intoxicated behind the wheel when he hit, killed womanDOUG ERICKSON | Wisconsin State Journal | derickson@madison.com | 608-252-6149 madison.com

For years, Maureen Mengelt ran the same five-mile route near her home in Sun Prairie, a course that helped her prepare for the annual Syttende Mai 20-miler next month in Stoughton, her favorite race.

On Sunday afternoon, Mengelt, who turned 52 last week, was training alone on that route when police say she was struck and killed by a a local Lutheran bishop who allegedly was intoxicated on his way to a church ceremony.

"We've run that route probably thousands of times — it was one of her favorites," said Mengelt's husband, Kevin.

He was being comforted Monday by dozens of friends and family members, including members of the Madison Police Department. Maureen Mengelt was an officer on the force in the late 1980s, before deciding police work was not her calling, friends said.

Most recently, she devoted her time to raising the couple's three children — one at UW-Madison, two school-aged — and working part time as a driver for Gallant Knight Limousine, a job that spoke to her love of people.

Mengelt was running Sunday on a blacktop path that runs parallel to Windsor Street in Sun Prairie. She was at the point where the path crosses the bottom of the northbound off-ramp of Highway 151 when she was struck.

Police arrested the Rev. Bruce Burnside, 59, the bishop for the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. He was in sheriff's custody Monday, tentatively charged with homicide by intoxicated driving and hit-and-run causing death, said Sun Prairie Lt. Brian Teasdale.

After allegedly hitting Mengelt, Burnside drove to a nearby Kelley's Market convenience store, where police first had contact with him in his vehicle, said Teasdale, who declined further comment due to the ongoing investigation.

Police did not release Burnside's blood-alcohol level, and no criminal complaint was filed Monday.

At the time of the crash, Burnside was heading to Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Sun Prairie, where he was scheduled to preside over a 3 p.m. ceremony in which a theologically trained lay person was to become a ministry associate. Police said they responded to the crash at 2:48 p.m.

Kathy Kienitz, a friend of the Mengelt family and a member of Our Savior's Lutheran Church, said she was struggling with a multitude of feelings Monday, from grief over her friend's death to anger over what appears to be an alcohol-related death.

"She was such a lovely woman, and this is the bishop of our church," Kienitz said. "It's really raw for people."

Jean Papalia, a retired Madison police officer, described Mengelt as vibrant and caring.

"She always had time to meet you for coffee and talk — she was the Coffee Queen," Papalia said.

As bishop, Burnside is based in Madison and oversees 145 congregations in 13 south-central counties. He was elected to the post in 2007. Prior to that, he served 14 years as pastor of St. Stephen's Lutheran Church in Monona.

Over the years, Burnside had been well regarded as a religious leader who addressed public issues in a measured way, from calling for a "season of civility" after labor protests at the state Capitol to, most recently, advocating for measures to address gun violence. He had traveled more than a dozen times to Israel and Palestine, in part to reassure Palestinian Lutherans they were not forgotten.

Just over a week ago, he returned from India, where he led a contingent of Madison youth on a trip to a Lutheran synod there.

In November of 2011, he lost his wife, Cynthia, to an aggressive cancer that had been diagnosed only months earlier.

On Monday, the synod instructed pastors not to discuss Burnside's tenure with reporters.

"We want to focus our primary concern on the family and friends of the woman who was killed," said the Rev. Blake Rohrer, Burnside's assistant. "His synod work and leadership is not an area of concern in this particular matter."

Rohrer said synod staff and members of the synod's executive committee would manage daily tasks, at least in the short term.

"We gathered this morning and prayed for the family and friends of the deceased," Rohrer said. "We are asking others to do the same."

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