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Pinellas driver to go to prison for DUI death

To Brandi Johnson, the scene unfolded in slow motion. She could see Kevin Grooms trying to cross Ulmerton Road. She could see a pickup truck coming. She thought Grooms would step back and let the truck zoom past.

"You know how people go to cross, they do like a stutter-step and let the car go by?" Johnson testified last year. "I thought for sure he was going to do that because I could see that it was very close, but he didn't and the truck just hit him."

On Wednesday the pickup's driver, 42-year-old John M. Beck of Indian Rocks Beach, pleaded no contest to a charge of DUI-manslaughter for killing Grooms, 33, of Largo.

Under the plea agreement worked out between Assistant State Attorney Bill Tyson and Assistant Public Defender Mary Obermeyer, Circuit Judge Tim Peters sentenced Beck to two years in prison, followed by five years of probation. Peters also revoked Beck's driver's license for life and ordered him to pay restitution to Grooms' family.

Johnson was the only eyewitness to the Sept. 3, 1995, crash. A little before 1 a.m., she was sitting in her car at Ulmerton and Tall Pines Drive, waiting to turn.

She could see Beck's 1985 Ford Ranger coming from the east on Ulmerton. She could see Grooms about to step off the median, trying to cross the road toward some fast-food restaurants.

"I was just sure he was going to take that stutter-step and let the truck swish by him," she said.

After the crash, the first Largo police officer on the scene was Judy Block. She found Beck sitting on the curb, clearly upset.

"He had his head in his hands, just covering his face and just appeared very shook up," Block said in pretrial testimony. She said Beck told her "that he did not see the pedestrian until he hit him and did not know where he came from."

Beck told another officer, Alan Rothberg, that he had had one drink that night, a rum and Coke at a club called Teasers, and was headed home. He told Rothberg that he did not drink much because he takes secobarbital for cluster headaches.

Blood drawn from Beck that night showed that his blood alcohol level was 0.11 percent. State law presumes a driver to be impaired if his blood alcohol level is higher than 0.08 percent. Beck's blood also showed the presence of secobarbital, Tyson said.

The skid marks Beck's truck left showed that he had been traveling 58 to 64 mph in an area where the speed limit is 45 mph, Tyson said.

Grooms' parents, Larry and Myra, and his daughter Sharon were in court Wednesday to watch as Beck changed his plea and was led away to a cell.

Sharon, who is 10, misses swimming with her dad and playing Monopoly with him. She talks about him a lot, her grandparents said.

The family has attended as many of Beck's court hearings as possible, waiting for the day he would turn to them and apologize for what he did. But he didn't even look their way Wednesday.

"That's what makes it hard," Mrs. Grooms said.