DENVER -- Jamie Burden is still paying a steep price for a poor decision he made 13 years ago.
“I came across a stolen motorcycle and I started riding it,” Burden says.
He was in a fog, under the influence of methamphetamine – a drug he’d been abusing for five years.
“At about 4 o'clock in the morning I tried to do a wheelie. I flipped it upside down. I hit the asphalt doing 60 mph with no helmet. And that's about it for that night,” Burden remembers.
He suffered life-changing injuries and ended up with a six-year prison sentence.
“I'm never gonna get away from what I did to myself. The injuries are so severe. They're gonna be here all throughout the rest of my life. I struggle to wake up every day. I shouldn't actually be here alive because of that accident,” he says.
Burden says the morning of the wreck was the morning he quit drugs.
“Almost losing my life changed everything I was doing. I was on a bad path, probably to death, doing drugs, doing meth,” Burden says.
Upon Burden’s release from prison he says he immediately got a job and started repaying more than $8,000 in restitution for the cost of the motorcycle he wrecked.
Burden says he scraped by for years while the state deducted a portion of every single paycheck.
“I was getting garnished 50 percent for three years,” he says. “It was a hard struggle. I struggled. But I wanted to get it behind me. I didn't want to quit my job and have them keep chasing me. I wanted to pay this off and get it done.”
Burden paid off his debt, never knowing what happened to the men who owned the motorcycle he wrecked until he saw video of a Denver7 investigation about restitution on his Facebook feed.
“All the comments were victims, saying no one ever pays their money. I commented to say I paid every cent of my money, I'm probably that one rare person that does. That pays every bit of his restitution,” Burden says.
The Denver7 investigation focused on more than $6 million in restitution payments that never made it to the intended crime victims. Such restitution payments often go “unclaimed” when victims move and do not notify the court of their new addresses.
Burden commented on the Facebook post without knowing Denver7’s investigative team had already researched his case because his restitution payments were, in fact, unclaimed.
The motorcycle Burden wrecked belonged to a young man whose stepfather co-signed for it. After the wreck, the bike’s owner and his stepfather had a falling out. When Burden got out of prison and started making payments, the two men couldn't agree on how to split up the money. Both filed motions with the court arguing their case, but a judge told them to work it out.
Neither man collected any money. Instead, the court turned the money over to its unclaimed restitution funds, which helped pay for victims’ services.
Burden was disheartened to learn his payments did not end up where he intended.
“I'm very, very sorry for wrecking the motorcycle, destroying something he probably loved a whole lot and didn't get to ride,” he said. “When I came across it, it was a brand-new motorcycle. And I know they paid their hard-earned money to pay for it … I should have to pay it back. So I did. Every cent.”
A lot of defendants don’t do that.
Denver7 Investigates analyzed restitution cases dating back to 1993 and found that about 34 percent of defendants have yet to pay off the debts owed to their victims more than five years after their sentencing. About half of those defendants have never made a single payment, according to the state’s data.
Burden says it’s just not right to break the law and leave a debt unpaid to the victim of the crime.
“I paid my debt to society. I paid my restitution back. And I've started my new life. I struggle but I get to wake up every day,” he says.