South Charlotte

Jeep Wrangler JK off-road rig comes with quite a story behind it

Josh Burkett's tricked-out 2008 Jeep Wrangler JK with a Mopar 5.7 Hemi V-8 engine is the subject of the cover of the November/December issue of CRAWL Magazine.

Sitting on top of the uptown Target parking deck, the Mint Hill man's shiny off-roading rig is displayed with the Charlotte night skyline glowing behind it.

The picture is one sweet success for 26-year-old Burkett; however, the notoriety didn't come without a downside. Burkett and his wife, Jessica, 23, have traveled a rocky road to get to this point.

Burkett grew up four-wheeling with his dad, and eventually father and son progressed to riding motorcycles together. In 2005, they got Suzuki motorcycles and took to the streets.

But the fun was short-lived.

In 2007, Burkett and Jessica were out for an evening ride on Burkett's motorcycle. While waiting to make a left turn off N.C. 51 at Hoods Crossroads, a 16-year-old driver broadsided them; he was talking on a cell phone and couldn't stop in time.

"I saw him coming and tried to go ahead and make the left-hand turn to get out of his way, but we didn't make it. He T-boned us," Burkett said.

Jessica sustained a broken arm; Josh, who got the worst of it, said he "was grateful that I took the hit, not her."

Burkett's left leg was crushed and had to be amputated above the knee. He spent 13 days in the hospital and had three surgeries.

"I was conscious the whole time after the accident," said Burkett. "When the doctors made the decision (to amputate), I heard them talking. It hits home, but it doesn't really hit," he said.

Litigation followed, and once things were settled it was time for Burkett to get on with life. His first move was to sell his Chevy S-10 pickup because it had a manual transmission, and his new leg was not clutch-friendly.

He turned to putting together a street-legal, off-roading vehicle. He had always been partial to Jeeps, so his choice was the 2008 Wrangler JK, because he needed more space for his prosthesis to fit under the dash. He placed the order at a dealership.

While waiting the three to six months for his car to arrive, he started planning its transformation. He purchased the lift, the tires and the rims and installed them once the truck arrived. In April 2009, he took the vehicle to Alex Reed at Carolina Truggies in Indian Trail for the serious work: Truggies is an off-roading specialty shop for repair and modification. Burkett's dream was starting to take shape.

The JK came stock with a six-cylinder engine, and Burkett and Reed felt it needed more power. They sent the rig to Burnsville Offroad in Minnesota to have the Hemi V-8 engine and a six-speed automatic transmission installed.

"I wanted the Hemi because of the tire size I was running," said Burkett. "And what man doesn't want a V-8 under him?"

The rig was complete in August and ready to hit the trails.

Burkett decided to upload some pictures of the JK to the off-roading interest website CRAWL Magazine, a national off-roading publication out of Montesano, Wash., took note of the rig's uniqueness.

In October, the magazine shot pictures of the JK in uptown Charlotte and off-roading in Marion and wrote a comprehensive article about the vehicle.

"The day of the shoot, Alex and I were running around like chickens with our heads cut off," Burkett said. "I was very stressed out."

The fact that Burkett's Jeep made the cover was the icing on the cake.

Now that the JK can get dirty, there are many happy trails ahead in Burkett's dreams.

"We are planning to go to Moab in Utah next April for the Easter Jeep Safari," said Burkett. Jessica just smiled: "I just go along for the ride and hold on for dear life."