Judge won't toss DUI manslaughter charge in 12-year-old's death

Hunter Cope hit, killed in March while walking to Mayport Middle School

By Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A 37-year-old woman charged with DUI manslaughter in the March death of a 12-year-old boy who was walking to school tried unsuccessfully Thursday to get the charge thrown out.

Kelley Permenter's attorney admitted in a motion to dismiss that Permenter was impaired and was speeding -- 53 in a 45 mph zone -- but said that Hunter Cope stepped in front of her SUV and no one would have been able to avoid hitting him, impaired or not.

The judge didn't buy the defense that Hunter was invisible and denied the motion.

Hunter's parents sat quietly watching the proceedings, and their attorney said after the hearing that they were pleased with the judge's decision.

“I know we're really happy and satisfied with his ruling today. It was clear the court took great consideration and was careful in considering all the issues in making his ruling today,” attorney Janeen Kirch said. “I think the family is just trying to get through each day one step at a time. I know this case has been weighing on them. It worries them, but today's ruling was definitely a step in the direction of getting justice for them and for Hunter Cope.”

Hunter was hit and killed about 8:30 a.m. March 6 at the intersection of Wonderwood Connecter and A1A as he was walking with five other children.

The arrest report said Permenter, who stayed at the scene, had used alcohol and cocaine. 

The state argued that Permenter's impairment had everything to do with Hunter's death, despite what the defense said, reminding the court that seconds before she hit and killed Hunter, Permenter left the scene of a crash at a gas station after she ran into the back of a car.

Permenter is scheduled for a pre-trial hearing Jan. 17.

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