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A&W assault victim's pain still lingers

Amanda Burton, whose sexual assault at the hands of a former manager at Buck’s A&W almost led to the restaurant’s closing, says she
Amanda Burton, whose sexual assault at the hands of a former manager at Buck’s A&W almost led to the restaurant’s closing, says she's moved on with her life. but she feels resentment at how some in her home town treated her during the ordeal.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Though married now and living in North Carolina, one of two women a former Buck’s A&W manager was convicted of abusing says she has painful flashbacks every day of what happened to her at the Port Orchard restaurant.

“Port Orchard used to be my home, and now I feel physically ill going back there,” said Amanda Burton, who was a teen-aged Amanda Sandberg when James D. Border was arrested and later convicted of molesting her and another female co-worker.

“I left Port Orchard because I could not handle driving past A&W,” she said. “It was the best decision I could have made at that time.”

In 2004, Burton and Jennifer Johnson filed a lawsuit accusing Border, restaurant owner Rick Gehring and the business of sexual discrimination.

After Border settled out of court, a jury in July 2007 found Gehring and his wife did not “abet” Border, but that Buck’s A&W as a business did “subject both Burton and fellow plaintiff Jennifer Johnson to sexual discrimination.”

Until the settlement was reached, Burton was asked not to speak about the case. Now that the formal settlement was agreed to on Dec. 24, Burton can share her story.

When she began working at A&W in 2002, she was only 15 and excited about having her first job. At the time, Border was a manager, and while at first she “was terrified of him because he was so big ... and could fire me if he wanted,” Burton said soon the 6-4, 225-pound Border felt like an older brother to her.

“Until he started trying to massage my back every time I sat down for a break and commenting on my chest size,” she recalled. “In retrospect, I should have quit, but at the time I felt like I needed the job too much. I was using my paychecks to pay for my transportation to and from Olympic College, where I was a full-time Running Start student.”

Burton said other managers at the restaurant made inappropriate comments to her, as well, and after seeing two co-workers harassed, she said she “wrote a formal complaint to Gehring, but nothing was ever done.”

Gehring’s attorney, Kim Zak, said that any statements from Burton alleging that she had filed any complaints to Gehring prior to Border assaulting her were “absolutely false” and directly contradicted her testimony during the trial.

On the night of the incident, Burton said she stayed late at the restaurant with Border to clean the broiler.

When she was done with her work and getting ready to go home, she said Border came downstairs and forced himself on her.

Burton said she did not report the assault to Gehring because, after “he basically ignored my (earlier) complaint and the harassment continued, I felt like I couldn’t go to him or any other manager.”

After the assault, Burton said she began a downward spiral that caused her grades to drop so drastically that she received a letter of warning from Olympic College.

In January 2003, she attempted suicide.

When her father found her after that attempt, he contacted the Port Orchard Police Department. After an investigation, officers arrested Border — who by then was working at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard — on Feb. 12, 2003.

Border was convicted of third-degree sexual misconduct with a minor and sentenced to 20 months in prison. After serving 12 months, he was released to live in South Kitsap and required to register as a Level 3 sex offender.

In the meantime, Burton graduated from South Kitsap High School in June of 2003 and earned her first associate’s degree from Olympic College that fall.

Despite Border’s arrest, Burton said she still felt justice had not been served, and in 2004 she decided to file the lawsuit.

“My lawsuit was not a McDonald’s coffee lawsuit,” she said. “My lawsuit was because of actual damages. My life was completely destroyed until I got counseling and started re-building it. I will have to live with this my whole life, and I have flashbacks daily.”

Burton has since moved on to earn a bachelor’s degree, serve four years in the U.S. Marine Corps and achieve the rank of sergeant.

She now works for the federal government at Camp Lejuene in North Carolina.

Burton said she was unaware that Buck’s A&W was in danger of closing until she read news stories online, along with many negative comments about her, Johnson and their lawyers.

“It has taken me a long time to get to the point where I am emotionally (healthy), and that week of reading those articles, the community’s comments to those articles and receiving messages from people really set me back,” she said. “I feel like the community turned against me without knowing all of the facts, and that hurt like a knife in the stomach.

“I realize that A&W has done a lot of good and has quite the history in Port Orchard,” she said. “However, I will never be able to forget what happened there to me and other girls. I can’t even look at a can of A&W root beer without feeling sick. In my opinion, the bad has outweighed the good in this particular situation.” 

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