Jana Miles-Burnett

Jana Miles-Burnett, 40, died in a motorcycle accident on Saturday. She is pictured here (center) with her two children, Sara Smillie, 22, and Cody Miles, 14. Miles-Burnett was just married at the city park in Buckner and was riding on the back of a motorcycle driven by her husband, William Burnett, on the way to the reception in nearby Christopher.

FRANKLIN COUNTY – Just minutes before, Jana Miles-Burnett was beaming in a cream-colored tea length wedding dress.

True to form for Miles-Burnett, her wedding day at the city park in Buckner was full of laughter as she exchanged vows with William Burnett, promising to honor and cherish each other until their dying days.

“The wedding was filled with the most laughter I’d ever seen in my life,” said Miles-Burnett’s daughter, Sara Smillie on Sunday.

The couple had met a few months ago and fell so quickly and madly in love they decided to tie the knot on Saturday evening. They shared a sense of humor and generally enjoyed each other’s company, Smillie said.

“I hadn’t seen her that happy in a long time,” Smillie said through tears.

The beautiful, mild November 6:30 p.m. wedding at the park was relaxed, with love in the air and Miles-Burnett “beaming,” Smillie said. After enduring the heartbreak of divorce a few years prior, her mom was just sure she’d found someone to love for the rest of her life.

No one expected that life would end so soon.

Still in her wedding dress, Miles hopped onto the back of a motorcycle driven by her new husband. They exited the park to the cheers of their friends and family on their way to Ground Zero Bar, a tavern in nearby Christopher, where they planned to meet up with everyone for their reception.

Shortly after they left, the couple’s motorcycle struck a deer. They were traveling westbound on Illinois 14 near Urbain Road. State police said a deer ran onto the roadway into the motorcycle’s path. Smillie said Burnett did not have time to react, and his bride, still in her wedding dress, was thrown off of the motorcycle during the collision that happened around 7 p.m.

Some in the caravan of friends and family not far behind and also headed to the reception witnessed the incident.

Miles-Burnett was seriously injured but still alive when emergency crews arrived. But she couldn’t overcome the trauma. She was pronounced dead at 8:04 p.m. Saturday at Franklin Hospital in Benton. Miles Burnett, 40, of Whittington leaves behind her husband, daughter Smillie, 22, and a son, Cody Miles, 14, and many other loved ones.

Arrangements are pending at Hobbs-Jonson Funeral Home & Crematory in Benton, according to funeral director/owner Steven Pate. A GoFundMe account has been set up to help the family with funeral costs, which can be found by searching for the Jana Weaver Miles-Burnett Memorial. 

The driver, Burnett, age 31, of Buckner, suffered minor injuries and was treated and released, state police said. 

Those she left behind said Miles-Burnett was a sassy woman with dimples and the singing voice of an angel. She was the kind of selfless person who always put her children and family, and friends above herself, even when she herself was going through difficult times, they said. 

Annabelle Lea Shukites, of Christopher, said she and Miles-Burnett were friends as children, and reconnected in adulthood when both worked at the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office. Shukites was a correctional officer at the jail, and Miles-Burnett was a 911 dispatcher. The two became close again as they went through their respective divorces together, Shukites said.

“I swear I could be in the worst of moods and that woman was bubbly, goofy, she would do anything silly to make you laugh,” she said.

When Shukites said Miles-Burnett told her she had met someone new, and found happiness in love again, she was thrilled for her friend.

Shukites, who was unable to make the wedding, said that when she heard her friend died on the way to the reception, it took her breath away.

“It’s hard to see someone finally happy in their life and it’s gone so fast,” she said.

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On Twitter: @MollyParkerSI ​



Molly Parker is general assignment and investigative projects reporter for The Southern Illinoisan.

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