Ex-bus driver pleads guilty to sex abuse charges
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A former Kanawha County school bus driver has pleaded guilty to the sexual abuse of a young girl and was sentenced to five to 25 years in prison.
Samuel Larry Burkhamer, 37, of Elkview was arrested at the Elkview bus garage last August after authorities discovered he had sent sexually explicit texts to a student on his bus. He was immediately fired and has been in jail since then on a $10,000 cash bond.
The victim said she had been friends with Burkhamer's stepdaughter for several years and was sexually abused by him during sleepovers at his home when she was 9 years old.
Last year, she told police he contacted her on Facebook and by cell phone. He was charged with soliciting a minor via computer.
He pleaded guilty to first-degree sexual abuse. The penalty was enhanced due to the girl's age at the time of the earliest incidents.
Burkhamer also was ordered to register for life as a sexual offender and will be subject to an additional 25 years of court supervision following his release from prison.
He waived a pre-sentence investigation and agreed to be immediately sentenced after his plea. He also waived a sexual offender evaluation.
The victim appeared in court for Monday's hearing, flanked by relatives and friends. She told Kanawha Circuit Judge Paul Zakaib that she feared Burkhamer.
"Since this happened, he has taken a huge part of my childhood away from me," she said. "There was a huge burden lifted from me when he was arrested."
She said she used to lay awake at night, terrified with fear of Burkhamer.
"Thank you, your Honor, for taking this predator off the streets," she said. "And not only for following the law but following your heart. No other child has to be his victim again."
Assistant Prosecutor Jennifer Gordon said Burkhamer first abused the girl by putting his hand down her pants when she spent the night with his stepdaughter.
After the hearing, surrounded by family, the girl spoke again about her relief at Burkhamer's arrest and conviction.
"No child should have to fear that," she said. "Especially from someone like driving a bus for elementary school children.
"I strongly feel that there are other victims but I think they should be able to feel safe now that he's off the streets," she said.
"When I heard of his arrest, after five years, I felt he no longer had access to me or any of my friends," she said.
She walked away in the embrace of relatives. Her mother whispered her ear, "You are a brave girl."
Burkhamer will be eligible for parole after serving five years.
Contact writer Cheryl Caswell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4832