Motorcycle ride ends in heartbreak
MELBOURNE — Misty Burton had just pulled her motorcycle into the parking lot and was waiting for her husband to catch up.
James was always late.
Minutes after she sent him a text her phone rang.
She didn’t usually answer numbers she didn’t know, but this time she did.
A police dispatcher told her: Your husband has been in an accident.
Misty Smith has spent the majority of her life in Izard County.
By the time she was ready for college her current employers at Unimin had found her a job at another company they owned in Jonesboro and it was there she met James Burton, who was the manager.
Right from the start, she knew the man, who was 12 years her senior, had some interest in her.
Two weeks later, her instincts proved right.
“We were locking up the place and he told me he loved me. I just said, ‘Thank you,’ and went to my car.”
The admission did not make her uncomfortable and being at a new location and not knowing that many people, she said the two of them “just hit it off.”
After a couple of luncheons they went on their first official date.
If James had hoped to impress the woman he professed to love, it hit a snag when his debit card wouldn’t go through, even though the problem wasn’t on his end.
“I had to pay for our meal. He spent the whole night apologizing saying he had money in the bank,” she said.
For the next three years the couple dated.
One night after they returned home from a Melbourne basketball game he proposed.
“He was in the bedroom acting like a weirdo. … I don’t think he had it planned out very well. I actually said ‘Thank you’ and then I laughed and said, ‘I’m joking.’”
On March 12, 2005, the couple wed at Timber Ridge Lodge in Charlotte.
It was his idea to move back to Melbourne. Misty wasn’t as excited about the idea, but James, who was from Helena, had developed a love for the hills so they moved back to her childhood home.
“We rode dirt bikes, motorcycles. We did everything together. We liked all the same things and we were friends.”
During their eight years of marriage, he had been adamant about wanting a child and she was still unsure about being ready to start a family.
“His main goal was to have a child,” Misty said.
After three pregnancy tests she dried her mixed-emotion tears in the bathroom where she worked and called James.
He was working for a trucking company and drove into another one of their trucks when she gave him the news.
“He was so excited!”
From the time Parker arrived, James was a full-time dad.
“He spent all his time with Parker.”
He even took off work one day to care for Parker when day care closed and since he had never been fishing planned a father-son fishing trip.
When Misty arrived home she found a dead fish in the swimming pool and James made it a point to tell her he had caught it.
“He did the dumbest things. He even asked me if fish slept.”
At one point the couple bought a journal thinking they would jot down things for Parker and it was James who wrote how they live by a water tower and the address so one day, long into the future, his son could return to relive those memories.
“Most men don’t write. He sat down and wrote three or four pages telling Parker what a gift he was.”
James was notorious for making memories. She would later find 1,200 photos on his phone and 300 videos.
Sept. 7, 2013.
The family was heading to Blanchard Springs for the day so a friend could take family portraits.
Parker was in a friend’s car and excited about getting to tour the caverns and wanted to “see the bats.” He was asleep when the car stopped at the Mountain View McDonald’s. She sent a text to let James know they had stopped, but he never got that text.
Both Misty and James were riding bikes and she liked to ride slow and he would later catch up to her.
On this day, he was only a couple minutes behind her.
Within a few minutes dispatch was telling her there had been a wreck and they were unsure of his location. She could hear him telling dispatch that she was “on a bike.”
Misty left Parker with her friend and headed back. When she arrived at the accident scene they were loading James onto an ambulance.
“Nobody thought it was as bad as it was. He was fully aware and talking. They knew he had a broken arm and he said his insides were hurting.”
The decision was made to meet the helicopter at the Stone County Medical Center which was only a couple miles away.
“He was in a lot of pain. He kept saying he was dying, he was sorry and he loved me over and over.”
But Misty still thought there would be a happy ending.
After all, she had long ago labeled her husband a hypochondriac. This was the same man who got sick on their wedding day and looked pale in all their wedding photos and couldn’t drive from Jonesboro to Melbourne without getting nauseous.
But she could also see it in his eyes: “He knew things were not right.”
As they were loading him up for transport he yelled, “I’m not gonna make it.”
Within minutes he went into cardiac arrest and the helicopter returned.
Medical personnel worked on him for an hour, the 32-year-old widow said.
“I know they tried. They did what they could.”
The support has been overwhelming.
“I am so thankful to all these people who care.”
With no insurance or burial policy, the bills just keep coming and medical costs are in the thousands.
And she is grateful for her employers at Wade’s Heating and Cooling who have helped support her through the ordeal.
“He would have been amazed at how many people attended his funeral,” she said.
And while she deals with her own grief she knows her little boy is constantly missing his father.
“James took over everything. When Parker was sick he was wanting his daddy.”
In an effort to help him understand she has read him all kinds of stories and even bought the children’s version of “Heaven is for Real.”
At one point Parker asked, “Mom, why do you keep reading me all these books about Heaven? I know.”
One morning on the ride to school he was looking out the window and up at the sky. These days, she said, Parker looks at the sky a lot.
But on this particular one he turned his eyes toward heaven and told her, “Everything just looks different now that Daddy’s gone.”