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DID ROCK COLLECTOR WALK TO HIS DEATH?
A hiking trail near a highway rest area in southern La Salle County proved too hot an environment for a truck driver who may have become delirious during an afternoon heat index high of over 120 degrees last week, according to sheriff’s investigators after the man’s body was found beside a tree.
Identified as 53-year-old John Burchard of Nordheim, Texas, the man had reportedly parked his 18-wheel freight truck at the rest area beside the IH-35 southbound lanes at 1 p.m. Wednesday, June 21, and was never heard from again.
The La Salle County Sheriff’s Office is reporting that it received a call from Lone Star Transportation, Burchard’s employer, shortly after 7:30 a.m. Thursday, June 22, with inquiries about the missing driver, since Burchard’s truck tracking system showed that the vehicle was still parked at the rest area more than 18 hours after the man had stopped driving.
La Salle Deputy Eusebio Garcia was dispatched to the highwayside rest area and found Burchard’s truck deserted with its engine still running.
Burchard’s body was found 100 feet along the rest area’s nature trail.
The man appeared to have taken all his clothes off and may have tried resting beside a tree but is believed to have been overcome by the afternoon heat, according to the sheriff’s office.
“Deputy Garcia had found no trace of the driver near the truck and saw the entrance to the hiking trail nearby,” La Salle Lt. Homar Olivarez said of the case. “He discovered the body a short distance along the trail.”
The truck driver was pronounced dead at the scene by La Salle County Pct. 1 Justice of the Peace Roxanna Rodriguez.
Announcing the start of an investigation into a suspicious death, the sheriff’s office dispatched Sgt. Investigator Esmeralda Gonzalez and Investigator Adrian Ruiz to the scene. The officers examined security camera footage from the rest area and contacted Burchard’s family for more information on the man’s activities, Olivarez said.
“We learned that Burchard was an avid rock collector in his spare time,” the lieutenant said. “We found a small collection of rocks and arrowheads in the truck and some rocks in the man’s pockets. We believe that he may have stopped his truck for a routine break on his route, seen the hiking trail and decided he’d like to search for some collectible rocks.”
The time-stamped surveillance footage showed that Burchard had gone to the nature trail almost immediately after parking his truck at the rest area on Wednesday afternoon.
“What we were unable to determine was why Burchard would go along that trail during the hottest part of the day,” the sheriff’s lieutenant said. “He was walking further away from his truck, whose engine was running. Daytime highs for Wednesday afternoon were 114 degrees in that area.”
The National Weather Service has reported that afternoon heat indexes for La Salle County exceeded 120 degrees last week.
The sheriff’s office has indicated that the scene of Burchard’s death bore no signs of a scuffle or interference, and that the man appeared not to have suffered physical trauma. Investigators are considering ruling out foul play in the man’s death, according to the lieutenant. Burchard’s body has been transported to the Webb County Medical Examiner’s Office in Laredo. Autopsy results are pending.
“The video footage from the rest area told us something about Burchard’s condition,” Olivarez said. “When we looked at the film, it became apparent that Burchard was staggering a little as he entered the trail. He also took off his shirt.
“The footage indicates that the truck driver was already suffering from heat-related illness when he left the truck,” Olivarez said. “It is possible that the extreme heat was affecting his judgement. He may have become delirious and took the rest of his clothes off because he thought it would help him cool down, even as he walked further from his truck.”
Olivarez added that records indicate Burchard had been prescribed medication for a cardiac condition.
“This is a tragic reminder that heat poses a very serious danger,” the lieutenant said. “People with pre-existing conditions are particularly at risk.”