Family of hit-and-run victim turns tragedy into positive - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Family of hit-and-run victim turns tragedy into something positive

Courtesy: Kevin Mengelt Courtesy: Kevin Mengelt
Courtesy: Kevin Mengelt Courtesy: Kevin Mengelt

SUN PRAIRIE (WKOW) -- The family of a woman killed while jogging last month is doing something positive in the wake of their own personal tragedy.

Kevin Mengelt's wife Maureen was killed by a hit-and-run driver in April. Police say the man behind the wheel that day, Bruce Burnside, a local bishop, was drunk. Burnside denied to police using alcohol or any drugs that day. His attorney didn't have any comment on the pending case, only to tell 27 News Burnside would be in court Monday for a status conference where another hearing date would be set.

Kevin and his children started the Maureen Mengelt Memorial Fund in an effort to do something positive after her death. Kevin tells 27 News, "Maureen was very outgoing, very bubbly. Anyone who saw her, she'd be smiling so I think our family just wants to follow that track, that trend. She was a very positive person and we want to focus on the positives. To do something otherwise would make this even more difficult."

The fund will help pay for Sun Prairie-area athletics and music programs. Kevin and Maureen's children are all involved in musical groups and sports and the couple had become well-known in the community as they trekked to each concert and game.

Recently, to honor Maureen and the family, soccer clubs at the high school sold t-shirts to go toward the fund. That same night, the all-city youth orchestra held a concert and came up with something called "Strings for Maureen" where they sold red shoestrings.

Maureen was an active runner and was training for the Syttende Mai Run in Stoughton when she was hit and killed. Kevin says, "We'd be out on a drive and Maureen would say, 'Hey, there's a fun run' and she'd just do it. Spontaneously!" Maureen had done the Syttende Mai Run about 30 times. This year, her daughter will run it for the first time.

"A 5K was nothing for her. She loved to eat. She'd say, 'I run so I can eat.' She'd polish off a bag of junk food and say, 'Well tomorrow I'm running a marathon' and then she would," Kevin says. That's why the family decided to do a fun run for Maureen this Memorial Day. The day at Orfan Park in Sun Prairie includes a festival too.

Kevin and his family hope to continue fundraising after this year. He's working on creating a board of directors for the Maureen Mengelt Memorial Fund with bylaws to cover what the money can be used for. He'd like it to focus on musical programs and athletics. For the next week, funds raised will go to the Sun Prairie Ice Arena effort. The community is hoping to build a new ice rink by October 1st.

Kevin says doing something positive in his wife's memory is helping his family focus on how she lived her life, not her death. "It is very, very painful. I find when I'm focusing on things that Maureen would appreciate and support, I lose myself in it and the family loses itself in it. And I don't know if it's healing, but it certainly is allowing us to focus not on the pain, but things that are positive."

Once he's done helping the community, Kevin plans to turn his focus on the issue of drinking and driving. Investigators say Burnside's blood alcohol content was .128 when his SUV hit Maureen. Kevin says the legal system needs to do something to address the issue. "I want to understand what could have caused this and what led up to this. I don't want to pre-judge. That's not how myself or my family are. I want to understand. Were there mitigating circumstances?"

But on Memorial Day, when Kevin and his children are remembering the woman who meant so much to them, they hope the community takes away something positive from their experience. "I'm going to have a picture of Maureen up and there are so many of her smiling so it'll be hard to choose the right one. But I'd like for people out running that day or just coming to the festival to come look at it and just see the light that clearly showed through her eyes, through her smile, through all of her actions. I'd like them to leave that day and think, 'This is a good day. I'm going to have a great day today.'"

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