Luke (Lewis Jr.) Burns, 55, and Gayle Burns, 53, were on their way home Saturday night from a friend’s house where they had gathered for dinner after a meeting of elders from the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses of Grand Haven.
Their son, Lewis III, said they visited a home in Robinson Township.
“I talked to my Mom probably at 5 p.m.,” he said. “They stopped here to change clothes before going out there. I waved to my Mom through the window.”
“We had a get-together as we often do,” said Adam Rogers, another elder. “We shut things down kind of early. Everybody was concerned about the bad weather.”
Rogers said there was a shuffling of vehicles before the Burnses left.
“I stood there at the door for a while talking to Luke,” he said. “I said, ‘Be safe.’ I backed out my truck and watched them drive away.”
Moments later Rogers said he got a call from another couple taking the same route. They wanted him to get in touch with Luke, because the car in the crash at Mercury Drive and Robbins Road looked like the car the Burnses drive.
Rogers said he made the call, but no one answered.
Police said Gayle Burns was driving their Chevrolet Cobalt northwest toward Grand Haven on Mercury Drive shortly after 8 p.m. Saturday, when the car spun out of control on the slippery, snowy roads. A pickup truck broadsided the passenger side of the Burnses' car.
Gayle was pronounced dead at the scene. Firefighters extricated Luke from the car. He was taken by ambulance to North Ottawa Community Hospital before being transferred to Hackley Hospital in Muskegon, where he died shortly after midnight.
The driver of the pickup truck, Scott Miller, was heading southeast on Mercury Drive and said he was unable to avoid the collision. He did not suffer injuries in the crash.
Passersby stopped to offer what help they could, and local residents responded to the news with prayers for those involved and their family members. Friends wrote on the Tribune's website about how the community has lost tremendously wonderful people.
“They were just two of the most kind, wonderful, funny people you could meet,” Jasmine Rogers said.
“Gayle had a contagious laugh,” she said. “Luke was very humble.”
As emergency workers tried to rescue the couple and later cleared the scene, Adam Rogers said someone from the group went to couple's house. They saw a sheriff's cruiser there.
“We knew it wouldn’t be good," he said.
The Burnses had moved in and out of the area a couple of times. They originally lived in the West Virginia and southern Ohio areas.
“I think they were here because of her father,” Rogers said.
Luke worked for many years at an automotive parts supplier in the Holland area, Rogers said. In recent years he had been attending culinary school at Grand Rapids Community College.
“He was just about to finish,” Rogers said. “He was doing his internship.”
Gayle did commercial cleaning, he said.
“She was working part time – really to support her ability to support this ministry,” Rogers said. “Luke and his wife were what we called a full-time pioneer (minister.) ...They would devote – each of them – 70-plus hours a month in that particular work."
“That was the central focus of their lives – to assist people in the community that way,” he added. “Gayle and Luke talked to people about their hope for the future and their hope for the way they want to be.”
That’s what they did, their son said.
“They were full-time volunteers in the community," Lewis said. “They were good people.”
Lewis lived with his parents in their home at Village Green.
“We were really close,” he said. “We took vacations together. We played cards almost every night.”
Lewis said they always made sure they ate a meal together and read Bible verses every day.
“We had a family meeting every week to go over what was going on in our lives,” he said.
Their friend Adam Rogers said the couple were super friendly and easy to be around.
“They were some of the most fun, likeable people you would want to know," he said. "They were not pretentious and were humble to the core.”
Rogers said Luke could “take a delicate situation and interject only what Luke could do and kind of change the way things fell. He was a good man.”
“It’s a huge void,” he said about the loss of his friends. “All of our congregation is made up of a variety of personalities. Theirs was one that was needed.”
Rogers said it was a little surreal to think about.
“But the Bible said that time and unforeseen occurrences befall us – some things we can’t control,” he said. “We grieve, but at the same time we have real hope that we will see them again."