Dad wars against drunk driving after daughter's death
Keri Anne DeMott devoted her life to helping others.
When her friends were sick, Keri couldn’t sleep. Late at night, her father, Bill, would find her awake in her room, working hard on art or thinking up ways to help the people she loved.
“Her heart was on everybody — she put everybody in front of herself,” DeMott said. “You never saw her without a smile. You never saw her not thinking or running around considering how to help others.”
She was devoted to her siblings, 23-year-old Casey and 7-year-old Billy. Keri Anne was the middle child, but the siblings loved each other dearly. Billy wanted to grow up to be just like Keri.
She wanted to be a social worker more than anything. She wanted to take pictures, to make art, to spend time at the beach with her boyfriend, Jacob, or her sisters in the Delta Gamma sorority.
But Keri Anne is dead. The UCF student’s life was cut short just after midnight on Oct. 10, 2015, when 22-year-old Keith Pumphrey drove his car into her vehicle on State Road 407 in Brevard, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.
His blood-alcohol level was .132, more than 50 percent over the legal limit. It was the second time Pumphrey had gotten behind the wheel of his car while drunk, according to court records.
On April 20, he was sentenced to 15 years in prison for Keri’s death.
Justice served is little consolation for Bill DeMott. The courts can’t raise Keri from the dead; prisons can’t lock away the pain that’s wormed its way into his heart, a pain that turns his soft voice even softer whenever he talks about his lost daughter.
But Bill is a fighter. He’s been fighting all his life — first in the wrestling arena, where he spent nearly 30 years of his life competing in various professional wrestling confederations, and now in government, where he seeks to change the laws that allowed Pumphrey behind the wheel.
“I found out that you can be a two-, three-, four- or five-time DUI offender, which is absolutely horrific,” DeMott said. “The man who killed my daughter was a multiple-DUI offender. Florida is one of the states that doesn’t have a mandatory ignition interlock device — in a different state, all offenders who get hit with a DUI would get an IID in their car, which then makes this a preventable tragedy.”
Ignition interlock devices prevent drivers convicted of a DUI from starting their vehicles if their blood-alcohol content is above the legal limit in that state. To start their cars, drivers must blow into a small breath-analysis unit attached to the ignition. While interlock devices can be added as part of DUI convictions in Florida, they are not mandatory, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.
DeMott’s crusade against drunk driving doesn’t end with IIDs. He wants to tighten sentencing, to raise punishment limits beyond the 15-year maximum sentence his daughter’s killer was given. If he needs to run for office to see change happen, so be it — he never backed down from a fight during his wrestling days, and he’s not about to start now.
If Bill DeMott is Don Quixote, a man with wild dreams fighting against giants, then UCF Police Department Officer Frank Imparato is his Sancho Panza, a voice of reason and experience who guides his charge through the labyrinth of drug enforcement.
Imparato is an expert’s expert, the man you’d call if you needed to know exactly what drug was coursing through a person’s body right away. He’s a drug recognition expert, a title hard-earned after months of intensive study and training — he can recognize the physical and behavioral symptoms of various illegal drugs with an almost uncanny accuracy.
“We can tell you within a reasonable degree of certainty what is impairing [someone], whether it’s a medical impairment, if they’re not impaired at all or if the impairment is some sort of narcotic,” Imparato said. “We’re able to break that down into what category of narcotic it might be thanks to some very intense training.”
Out on patrol, he guides subjects through field sobriety exercises with a clinician’s grace, never faltering, delivering instructions simply, clearly and courteously. Imparato makes a high-stress, high-consequence experience into something more akin to a routine check-up at the doctor’s office.
Despite his skill, Imparato never dreamed of being a cop. As a boy, he imagined that he’d enter into the priesthood; it wasn’t until a fateful dalliance with the Police Explorers, a law-enforcement mentorship program run by the Boy Scouts of America, that he discovered his true calling.
His experience with the Policer Explorers inspired him to become a police dispatcher and later a traffic investigator. In 2011, he was sworn in as an officer at UCFPD, but it’s the memories dispatcher days that drove him to wage war against drunk driving.
“One night, when I was a dispatcher, there was a call about a traffic accident. There were two vehicles that struck each other: One vehicle had five passengers in the car, teenagers, 16 or 17 years old, and the second vehicle had two females in their mid-20s or early 30s. It was drunk driving against drunk driving. Out of the seven people involved, six people passed away — four out of the teenagers and both women. The only reason one teenager survived is because he was in the passenger side of the back seat, and he was cushioned by his friends’ bodies.
“I had the unfortunate task of calling the parents and saying, ‘Hey, your son’s been in a traffic crash and you need to go to the hospital, right now.’ We knew we had traffic homicide on the way — we knew that we had multiple fatalities. I remember the mom on the phone screaming at me, asking to tell me if her son was dead. I never want to go through that again. I never want to tell a parent that their child is dead because someone made a poor decision.”
In January, Imparato reached out to DeMott after seeing a number of his social media posts declaiming the need for DUI law reform. The two have been fast friends ever since, united by the hard-won awareness of drunk driving’s deadly consequences.
DeMott regularly joins Imparato on saturation patrols, where police officers are given free rein to patrol for impaired drivers beyond their normal jurisdictions, and Sector 2 Noise and Alcohol Patrol rides, which target local bars in search of underage drinkers.
He hopes that, one day, with enough education and awareness, no parent will ever have to suffer the loss of a child.
“It’s all for her — it’s all for Keri.”
Bernard Wilchusky is the Editor-in-Chief of the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter @cameradudeman or email him at BernardW@centralfloridafuture.com.