, Salem, MA

March 28, 2013

Hapless robber, caught after chase, admits his guilt


---- — SALEM — A Middleton man who drove off a cliff while trying to get away after a robbery at the Salem Walmart last May will be moving to another part of town next month.

Michael Burke, 41, of 20 Webb St., Middleton, will spend at least 18 months in Middleton Jail when he is sentenced next week.

On May 19, Burke went into the Walmart garden department on Highland Avenue, then strode to the front of the line, shouldered a cashier out of the way and reached into the open register, grabbing a handful of cash, prosecutor Michael Patten told a Salem Superior Court judge yesterday.

Burke then ran to a pickup truck and sped off. A “be on the lookout” alert was put out, and police converged on the area, looking for the balding man in the orange shirt.

A Lynn police officer saw the pickup heading back into Salem, and police tried to pull him over.

But Burke continued on, driving up busy Highland Avenue, passing cars, sideswiping one of them, before turning onto Greenway Road, near Salem Hospital.

At one point, he struck a parked car. Then, Salem police Sgt. Peter Gifford angled a marked SUV across the road, trying to block Burke from exiting back onto Highland Avenue.

Instead, Burke crashed into the SUV and continued on.

He crossed Highland Avenue, onto Almeda Street, a dead end, Patten said. As officers closed in, Burke tried to back up, then pulled forward, driving through someone’s backyard, damaging their grass, some flowers and a canoe, before going off a high embankment.

At that point, he bailed out of his damaged truck and tried to run away but was quickly caught, Patten said.

After his arrest, police found three small bags of cocaine and a bag of heroin. They also found cash on Burke and in the truck.

Burke pleaded guilty to charges of unarmed robbery; three counts of leaving the scene of a property-damage accident; assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (the truck, which he used to ram Gifford’s police vehicle); malicious destruction of property; possession of cocaine and heroin; and driving to endanger.

Judge David Lowy said he intends to impose a 21/2-year jail term, with 18 months to be served and the balance suspended for a period of time, when he sentences Burke on Thursday, April 4.

Courts reporter Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.