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Stopping to help, he's hit by truck

Paul Kepto likes to help.

His friends and family aren't surprised that the beer delivery truck driver stopped to help a stranger Monday morning after plywood and some boards tumbled from her pickup.

Kepto helped gather the spilled wood near U.S. 19 and 78th Avenue N about 8:40 a.m. The other motorist thanked him. "Be careful," she said.

Kepto peeked out into the roadway. Just then, police say, a side mirror on a box truck southbound on U.S. 19 struck smashed into Kepto's head.

The 32-year-old St. Petersburg man was taken to Bayfront Medical Center with serious head trauma and remained there in critical condition Monday night, Pinellas Park police said.

"He'd give you the shirt off his back if he had to," said Mike Kepto, 51, Paul's uncle. "If he saw somebody hurting or in trouble, he would always stop."

Pinellas Park police are investigating. Capt. Sanfield Forseth said it did not appear that any charges would be filed against John Reece, the 37-year-old driver of the truck that struck Kepto.

Reece was driving 35 mph in a 55 mph zone, Forseth said.

Paul Kepto is single and has a son who lives out of the country, his uncle said. He lives in St. Petersburg with a roommate.

A former firefighter, Kepto has worked at Great Bay Distributors for the past seven years, delivering and selling beer for the company, which distributes Anheuser-Busch beer in Pinellas and Pasco counties.

Sandy Ho, Great Bay's vice president and director of human resources, said Kepto is a popular employee who enjoys working out at the gym and outdoor sports like jet skiing and boating.

Even though he works at a physically grueling job every week - delivering kegs and cases of beer to local bars and restaurants - Kepto doesn't hesitate to assist co-workers, Ho said.

"When somebody's moving, he's the first one there with his truck," Ho said. "He didn't even give it a second thought."

Mike Kepto remembered how his nephew let someone who was down on his luck live with him for months until he could get back on his feet.

Joyce Kepto, Paul Kepto's aunt, said he is the type who always helps with the dishes or chores around the house.

The motorist Kepto had stopped for, Kim Barbey, 42, said she was grateful for Kepto's help. She had never met him before Monday morning.

"He just came over," she said. "I'd just told him to be careful when he got hit. ... I'm just sorry that he got hurt."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Abhi Raghunathan can be reached at araghunathan@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8472.

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