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Medical examiner says detention deputy's drowning was suicide

Sgt. Richard Keyser texted wife Timmie Keyser, who has been paralyzed since a 2008 back surgery, before he drove his truck into a pond Aug. 11.

Special to the Times

Sgt. Richard Keyser texted wife Timmie Keyser, who has been paralyzed since a 2008 back surgery, before he drove his truck into a pond Aug. 11.

LARGO — Shortly before he died Aug. 11, Pinellas County sheriff's Sgt. Richard Keyser sent a text message to his wife saying he was having problems.

Timmie Keyser, paralyzed since a 2008 back surgery, called her husband but got no answer.

She called a friend asking for help in finding her husband.

By then, it was too late.

Keyser had already driven into a retention pond at the Pinellas County Jail, where he worked as a detention deputy, and drowned.

It was suicide, according to a report released Thursday by the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office.

Keyser had been drinking heavily, was despondent over his wife's medical condition and was addicted to prescription pain medications, the report said.

Investigators found numerous empty pill bottles in his 2009 Nissan Titan pickup truck when it was pulled from the murky water. Most of the drugs, including hydrocodone, Soma and Xanax, were prescribed to him; two were prescribed to his wife.

Just hours before, Keyser, 44, told a friend he wanted to die. Then there was the text to his wife in which he said he was "by a pond and having issues," the report said.

Keyser's mother, Garnet Domke of St. Petersburg, said she does not believe his death was suicide, recalling that he did not seem depressed in the days and weeks leading up to it. She said she believes it was an accident.

"I'm not just saying it because I'm his mom," she said. "I know my kid, my son, very well."

Domke said Keyser had been exhausted. Between his job at the Sheriff's Office and caring for his wife, Keyser was not getting a lot of sleep, she said.

The Medical Examiner's Office looks at a variety of factors when determining the manner of death, said Bill Pellan, the office's director of investigations.

"We don't take it lightly when we make the determination of suicide, and we also know it's very, very hard for families to accept it," he said.

In Keyser's case, there were a number of issues explored, including the formation of suicidal ideas as evidenced by Keyser's statement to his friend.

In addition, there was no evidence of a mechanical defect in the truck, or that Keyser tried to stop the vehicle before it entered the pond or that he made any effort to escape.

Keyser, a 1984 graduate of Lakewood High School, earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Florida Metropolitan University and joined the Sheriff's Office in 1995.

He was a veteran of the U.S. Army, the Florida National Guard and the U.S. Naval Reserve.

Domke said her son was "one of a kind."

"He was great," Domke said. "A wonderful young man. Hardworking. A wonderful dad."

Keyser and Timmie met on the job, Domke said. They married in 2007. Each had three children from previous relationships.

Timmie Keyser, a former Sheriff's Office sergeant, was seriously injured in March 2008 when she was a passenger in a car driven by her husband. They were hit from behind by an on-duty sheriff's deputy on Curlew Road, said her attorney, Web Brennan.

Timmie Keyser became a quadriplegic a few months later, after surgery to repair herniated discs went awry, Brennan said. She requires around-the-clock care, according to the website www.helptimmie.org, which friends set up to collect donations.

Carl Lucchi, who organizes donations for the family through the website, said Thursday that Timmie Keyser "appears to be amazingly upbeat considering all that she's going through."

Richard Keyser was a deacon at Countryside Christian Center in Clearwater.

Lead pastor Glenn Davis said Keyser "had a servant's heart."

"He was always willing to serve the people of the church, but in the midst of serving the church, his children were his priority," said Davis, also formerly youth pastor to Keyser's children.

Keyser's devotion to Timmie was unmatched, Davis said.

"Watching how he cared and loved his wife during all that — what an inspiration," he said. "He looked at her with such eyes of love."

The couple filed suit against the Sheriff's Office in February 2009 and litigation is pending against the doctor who performed the surgery.

In court filings, Timmie Keyser said she relied on her husband and her mother, Gail, for her basic needs. She said her husband had lost weight, got limited sleep and missed "a lot of time at work which has been causing difficulties there."

Timmie Keyser could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Medical examiner says detention deputy's drowning was suicide 11/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 11:58pm]

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