Dayton-area pastor killed in crash known for good works: ‘He had a heart of gold’

A Dayton-area pastor struck and killed while crossing a highway in Florida over the weekend was known throughout the community as someone who brought his ministry to the people.

Friends said Joel Burton, 42, will be remembered as a dedicated pastor who aimed to serve in the name of Jesus.

“Anyone he met he tried to tap them into anything they needed, any resources that they needed, any connection that they would need,” said Ian Chadrick, a friend of Burton who also worked with him. “He tried to bridge that gap and get everybody connected in the city, and he loved everybody.”

The Fort Walton Beach Police Department said Burton was killed early Sunday morning on U.S. 98 near the Holiday Inn Express. The crash involved a vehicle that struck two pedestrians crossing the highway.

ExploreDayton-area pastor hit by car, killed while crossing Florida highway

Burton was with Zebulon Dill, 32, another Dayton-area resident, who suffered serious leg injuries. Dill was taken to Fort Walton Destin Hospital, where he was being treated. Fort Walton Beach Police didn’t provide new information about the crash Monday.

Burton was a pastor for Simple Street, a Harrison Twp. church. Chadrick said Burton always tried to help people.

“This guy would do everything for everybody if he could,” Chadrick said. “He was one man, but the awesome part of his legacy is that he is not just one man — he has rubbed off on every single person he ever met, so now we all have the ability to be someone like Joel Burton and that’s what people should remember.”

Burton was featured in Dayton Daily News articles in the past. In July, the newspaper reported that the church’s building had been broken into and vandalized. And in June 2020 — in the midst of social justice protests — the newspaper covered Simple Street Ministry hosting a foot-washing ceremony. Burton said the event was to pray for those carrying burdens and for them to feel cleansed.

“We are coming together to love on our city, love on each other and to be a point of reconciliation,” Burton said at the time.

Kevin Howard, who was also a friend to Burton and a member of Simple Street, said Burton had a passion for ministry.

“He had a heart of gold and a heart for the people, but most importantly, he wanted people to know Jesus,” Howard said.

“When he found what the Lord had done for him, I think he just looked around the city and saw so much brokenness and he just tried to fix it,” Howard said. “And what Joel did, he really did in a way fix it because he brought so many diversities of churches and people together. He brought them together from all over Dayton, Ohio, even places across the United States as well.”

David Renfro, the senior pastor at Evangel Church of God, knew Burton for about eight years. He said the two collaborated and shared conversations about how they can serve the community and God. Burton loved serving God by serving people, Renfro said.

“I think that had a lot to do with his passion toward benevolence, and a lot of the things he did community-wise was about helping others,” Renfro said.

Chadrick said Burton’s mission will continue and people in the ministry will work hard to keep Simple Street alive.

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