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Bruce Burnside, Lutheran Bishop, Charged In Fatal Hit-And-Run; Leader Was Allegedly Drunk

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Lutheran Bishop Bruce Burnside allegedly killed a woman in a hit-and-run on Sunday while driving intoxicated on his way to a church ceremony, according to local reports. (photo credit: Dane County Sheriff's Office)
Lutheran Bishop Bruce Burnside allegedly killed a woman in a hit-and-run on Sunday while driving intoxicated on his way to a church ceremony, according to local reports. (photo credit: Dane County Sheriff's Office)

A religious leader in Wisconsin is accused of killing a woman in a hit-and-run accident while driving intoxicated on Sunday, according to multiple reports.

Lutheran Bishop Bruce Burnside told authorities he was running late to a church ceremony in his SUV when he struck and killed a woman, according to Central Wisconsin radio station WSAU. The victim was Maureen Mengelt, 52, a mother of three who was out for a run.

Burnside, who presides over 145 congregations as bishop of the South-Central Synod of Wisconsin's Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), told a police officer he was playing with his radio and GPS device at the time of the accident, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

Burnside's criminal complaint says that he denied being intoxicated; however, his breathalyzer registered a .128 blood alcohol content, WSAU reports.

After striking Mengelt, a former police officer, Burnside allegedly drove a short distance away and pulled into a gas station, assistant Dane County District Attorney Emily Thompson said, according to the Journal.

"Clearly, there was no effort to stay [at the scene of the crash]," Thompson told the outlet.

Burnside was charged with three felony counts of negligent and drunken homicide along with a misdemeanor hit-and-run, according to Wisconsin Radio Network. He was released from jail Thursday morning but will be on a bail monitoring program that requires he meet with authorities every day, the Pierce County Herald reports.

"We're holding the family of the woman who was killed in our prayers and we are really asking that God would be with them and provide them comfort in their grief and all those who have been impacted," said Rev. Blake Rohrer, who is Burnside's assistant, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The ELCA is the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States, according to its website. It believes that faith and the grace of God are the only means of salvation, and that the Bible is the one true guide by which all doctrine should be judged.

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