Woman convicted of DUI manslaughter in boy’s death sentenced to 10 years

Kelley Permenter apologizes to family of 12-year-old Hunter Cope, who was struck and killed in a crosswalk while walking to school in March 2017

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A woman convicted of DUI manslaughter and two other charges in the death of a 12-year-old boy was sentenced Monday to 10 years in prison.

Before a judge handed down the sentence in Duval County court, Kelley Permenter took the stand to express her remorse, addressing the mother of Hunter Cope.

“I was impaired. There was no reason for me to be driving that day, and I’m so sorry," Permenter said, crying. "I regret everything about that day.”

Kelley Permenter on the stand
Kelley Permenter on the stand (WJXT)

Police said Permenter hit and killed the boy as he was in a crosswalk at the intersection of Wonderwood Connector and A1A while walking to Mayport Middle School in March 2017. Investigators found Permenter had alcohol and cocaine in her system at the time. The defense attorney didn’t contest that Permenter was impaired, but claimed no driver could have avoided hitting the boy.

After a weeklong trial last month, a jury of four women and two men found Permenter guilty of DUI manslaughter, as well as DUI with property damage and leaving the scene of a crash with property damage.

At Monday’s sentencing hearing, the courtroom also heard from loved ones of Hunter. Hunter’s mother, his grandparents and two of his best friends wrote letters to Judge Bruce Anderson, expressing how much they miss Hunter every day and describing him as a bubbly, vibrant boy who loved to fish and make his loved ones laugh. In their letters, family and friends told the judge that Permenter’s direct choices were the reason Hunter’s life was cut so short and pleaded for the judge to hand over an appropriate sentence.

Crystal Clark, Hunter’s mother, had the State Attorney’s Office read her letter on her behalf. The letter also said Hunter’s mother had to quit her job and will never be able to drive by the site where the crash happened.

“That tragic morning rips my heart right out of my chest. Hunter will never have his first kiss, his first girlfriend, his first prom, his first car. He will never fish or throw a castnet again. He will never get married or have kids or even start his first day in high school. The impact of that morning and the choices Kelley Permenter made changed my life 100%,” her letter read. “Hunter has two young sisters and a baby brother that he will never be able to be a big brother to and they won’t have him to look up to. Kelley Permenter took that away from them. Thank you for your time. I am asking you to give an appropriate sentence to Kelley Permenter. There should be consequences for actions taken."

Hunter Cope
Hunter Cope

The judge listened, imposing the full sentence that the prosecution asked for. Anderson said it would be disrespectful to the jury’s finding to minimize what happened that day and denied the defense’s request for less time. In explaining his sentencing decision, Anderson also said that Permenter has a history of drug and alcohol abuse.

On the DUI manslaughter charge, Permenter was sentenced to 10 years and four months in prison, with credit for 32 days time served, followed by one year of community control and three years’ probation. The other two charges will run concurrent.

In addition to time in prison, Permenter has a slew of community control and probation special conditions, including 200 hours of community service, her license will be permanently revoked, she will have to wear an ankle monitor, she will have a permanent curfew, she will have to undergo substance abuse treatment and she will be required to attend AA meetings.

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