JSO bailiff's death renews push for stricter DUI laws

Kim Johnston accused in DUI crash that killed Cathy Adams, injured 3 others

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The death of a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office bailiff who was killed in a suspected DUI crash early Sunday has been a tragic reminder of the dangers of drinking and driving.

It's also renewed the push for stricter laws regarding DUIs. 

Kim Johnston has been charged with two counts of DUI with serious bodily injury in the I-95 crash that also left the bailiff's husband, a JSO officer, with critical injuries and their two teenage children with minor injuries.

Those felony charges could put her behind bars for more than 20 years, if she is convicted. 

But the I-TEAM spoke with a mother who lost her daughter in a drunk driving crash and thinks the laws for DUI deaths should be harsher. 

"I definitely think the laws should be stricter," Debbie Pruett said. "Basically, take a life, get a life." 

A drunk driver T-boned Pruett's daughter, Jennifer Kirk, six years ago in Baker County.

"She was doing what she was supposed to do," Pruett said. "She's leaving work, coming to my house to pick up her children."

Kirk's three children are now without a mother. The driver was sentenced to five years behind bars.

Jennifer Kirk's car

This weekend's crash hits close to home, not just for Pruett, but also for DUI defense attorney David Robbins, who knew JSO Bailiff Cathy Adams.

"She was a very helpful, kind woman who wanted to help everybody if they needed it," Robbins said. "She’s going to be missed."

Robbins said it's difficult for everyone involved, including those on the case of the suspected drunk driver.

"The judges are going to feel the pressure. Prosecutors are going to feel a lot more," Robbins said. "The defense lawyers, obviously, are going to feel it."

The Florida Highway Patrol has said more charges might be filed against Johnston.

If Johnston is charged with DUI manslaughter and found guilty, she could face up to 15 years, plus up to five years if convicted on the DUI with serious injury for Adams' husband. She could also face an additional one year for each of the couple's children injured, if she is charged and convicted.

While a judge can deviate, that’s a maximum of 22 years in prison.

"Assuming today that she is guilty, she is going to get close to the maximum penalty," Robbins said. 

Pruett, still grieving, wants people to realize the consequences of drinking and driving are very real.

"It is a senseless tragedy that has taken place because someone has not taken responsibility behind the wheel," she said.

Pruett is now part of the group called Jax Impact, which takes her daughter's car to schools and other events to show people what could happen. 

Johnston's bond was set at $100,000, and she bonded out of jail at 4:15 p.m. Monday.

A state trooper overseeing the case told the I-TEAM that she refused a Breathalyzer and blood test, but investigators asked a judge for a warrant and they used that warrant to require her to give a blood sample, which has been sent to a lab for processing. That could take weeks, potentially longer. 

Copyright 2018 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.