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I-4 Wrong-way DUI crash victim remembered for ministry work

Two hospitalized, one killed in Saturday crash
Posted at 10:48 PM, Jan 14, 2017

UPDATE | Travis Wade Coats, accused of driving in the wrong direction and causing a fatal traffic crash on Interstate 4 in Polk County early Saturday, is scheduled to have a first appearance before a Polk County judge at 8 a.m. Sunday. 

ORIGINAL STORY | We're learning more about those involved in a deadly DUI wrong-way crash on I-4 in Polk County Saturday.

Officials say 32 year old Demerrio Tobler is the man who died.

For Bishop Xema Florence, there aren't enough good things to say about Tobler.

"Faithful, phenomenal person.  Fun-loving, but lived a real clean pure lifestyle. Just an individual that you loved to be around," said Bishop Florence of Holy Temple Cathedral Pentecostal.

The bishop and Demerrio had been friends since childhood and both followed their faith into the ministry.
Demerrio's passion was music:  singing and playing the drums.

He quickly rose through the church ranks, recently becoming ordained as an elder.  He also led praise and worship and the youth ministry at Holy Temple Cathedral Pentecostal in St. Pete, all while finishing a college degree in hospitality management and working for an area hotel.

"In every facet he worked in, he touched lives--church, work, school, everywhere.  He was a go-to kind of person," said Bishop Florence.

So the bishop was stunned..when he got a phone call Saturday that Demerrio Tobler was killed, hit by an alleged wrong-way drunk driver  in Polk County.  Florence says Demerrio was heading home from Universal Studios in Orlando.

"I was in awe.  Because I had spoken to him earlier yesterday and just said, 'See you Sunday.'  Little did we know God had other plans," said Bishop Florence.

Troopers say 24-year-old Travis Coats hit Tobler head on, and a third car driven by 23-year-old Emily Smart, crashed into Coats' pick-up truck.

Tobler  didn't survive.  Coats and Smart were hospitalized.  Coats is now charged with DUI manslaughter and DUI property damage.

"Part of the punishment is the memory.  No matter how much  you say you're sorry, no matter how much you change and turn the leaf over, you have to live with the thought of what you've done," said Bishop Florence.

But his church family is praying the driver will find the same saving grace Demerrio had in his life..

"I'm hurt.  But I want that individual to know, and all individuals to understand that we forgive," Bishop Florence said.

And those who knew and loved Demerrio are also taking comfort in believing their elder is now sending praises from high above.

You can help the family of Demerrio Tobler here.