ORLANDO, Fla. – For Lt. Kim Montes, once she decided on a career in law enforcement, there was never any question that she belonged at the Florida Highway Patrol.
“I love the Highway Patrol deeply,” Montes said. “I love being a trooper, I still love being a trooper, and I love promoting traffic safety, traffic safety was where I needed to be.”
[INSIDER ONLY: ‘There would be no Trooper Steve without Lt. Kim Montes]
She didn’t always know she wanted to be a trooper.
“I was actually in school, I’d actually worked for a veterinarian, and I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian. My passion for animals. I had a wildlife permit. When I was in high school, I rehabilitated owls that had been, you know, knocked out of a nest or hurt. And I really did think I wanted to be a veterinarian, but I just couldn’t handle the years of school,” Montes said.
In 1990, her twin sister joined FHP.
“My sister wanted to be a police officer since she was little. CHIPS was a big (television show) back when we were growing up, and maybe that’s why we leaned towards the Highway Patrol. We were very influenced by that show. And so she wanted to ride a motorcycle. She wanted to be a state trooper, even though my dad was an Orange County deputy. And she became a trooper at 19 which is really unheard of,” Montes said. “My sister painted a picture of traffic, it just seemed to be intriguing. And so I looked at this agency, after talking with my sister, to join the Florida Highway Patrol and come back to where I grew up —(which) was basically Orlando.”
She joined in 1994, but it wasn’t for a few more years that she would take the position that led her to be the face of traffic safety in Central Florida.
“I got interested in car seat safety,” Montes said. We had a program that Trooper Paulson Holster had started up in Gainesville through the tax collectors to have money donated for free car seats for people who couldn’t afford them. And so I got interested in the car seats that were sitting at our station and went and got educated, became an instructor and started the Florida Highway Patrols car seat program where we had a trooper in each troop that would do car seat classes, provide free car seats. So really got into that. As I did that I worked for the then Public Information Officer for the Florida Highway Patrol in Orlando, Lieutenant Chuck Williams — legend, the legend, absolutely the legend — and so as I worked for him, he would start having me do stories for him, you know, the easy stuff.”
Williams soon went out on medical leave, and Montes filled in. When he decided to retire shortly thereafter, Montes was given the role permanently.
“I hadn’t planned on being the spokesperson, it just kind of happened,” Montes said. “I became the first trooper statewide in the history of the highway patrol to become the Public Information Officer.”
Being a PIO for the highway patrol is not for the faint of heart.
“I never can plan my day, I can’t get up and say, ‘I’m going to do this’,” Montes said. “I never know what’s going to happen out there and never know what we’re going to have to respond to. And again, getting up every day and having to basically write about death. When I send out the information to the media, it’s not on, most the time, on good stuff. It’s most of the time, it’s on bad stuff. And it can wear on you. But again, I think it’s also taught me to appreciate life and appreciate my loved ones and to appreciate the friendships I have, because you just never know when someone’s going to leave their house, their job and that may be the last time you see them.”
That’s why Montes said traffic safety is so important to her and why she’s so passionate about spreading the message about avoiding preventable crashes.
“I think the saddest part of this job has been the families that continued to struggle after a loved one has been killed in a crash. We’re a traffic agency, so we interact with people who are typically had a loved one killed in a crash. I have made over 100 next-of-kin notifications throughout my career. That was the saddest part for me. Because it’s not the death of somebody. It’s the family that has to deal with that. And that, to me, it was just very emotional. And I still think about those people,” Montes saod. “Everybody says, ‘You look so mean on TV’, but it’s not. It’s just you see these preventable incidents, and you’re like, ‘hello.’ And then you see this, these families, they’re torn apart from somebody being so stupid.”
Montes said one of the questions she gets asked is how she’s able to witness the aftermath of these crashes. She said it’s like being a doctor, it’s not that you get used to it, because it is upsetting, but you have to focus on appreciating life.
There are times the emotion comes through anyway, like when Deputy First Class Norman Lewis of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office was killed in January 2017, responding to the shooting death of Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton by Markeith Loyd.
“Steve (Montiero) was on scene with me. And we were talking to the media and a reporter asked me about this deputy even though we hadn’t released his name and, and we knew Norm and we knew he was such a great guy. And I think that’s the only time I’ve ever cried on TV. And it just hit me because it was just such a sad moment,” Montes said. “So that was that was the most emotional I think I’ve ever been on TV. I’ve been to a lot of bad scenes. You’re able to pull it back in. I’ve been to scenes where troopers have been killed, very emotional, and you’re able to pull it back in. But when you start thinking about the human aspect of it, and we started thinking about what a great guy Norm was, it just kind of hit both of us.”
The biggest story of Montes’ career was a huge story out of Central Florida.
“It was back in 2009. It was Thanksgiving morning. And a crash happened here in Windermere involving Tiger Woods. That would be the largest event media-wise that I would ever have to deal with,” Montes said. " An international story with hundreds of reporters inquiring about what happened. The first day, I had a news agency call me 68 times, a national news agency. And I, without the help of my sister, who was monitoring the stories, and then my husband, who was helping me pull those calls and do those inquiries, because again, it’s Thanksgiving weekend. So it was a very trying time. I’m glad I’ve never had another incident that large. I learned a lot.”
But FHP has brought Montes some pretty great moments, too.
“We got to meet Erik Estrada, that was probably one of the highlights of my career because he came in actually to promote car seat safety within a lot of the Hispanic communities. And we got to pick him up the airport, my husband, who was also a trooper, we got to pick him up at the airport, and just the interaction with him. Such a nice guy, so much fun. I did get to meet and talk with President Trump. And that will always be a highlight for me. He is very pro law enforcement. And the interaction with law enforcement was just amazing,” Montes said.
So how does Montes deal with such a busy life, where the work really never stops and the phone doesn’t stop ringing?
“The media knows I go to the gym every afternoon at a certain time, they actually will text me, ‘When you get out of the gym, call me back,’” Montes said. “So that was the precedent, and then also, me fostering kittens. I think right now I’m up to 62 rehoming of kittens and cats over about the last 10 years and that has been the de-stressing part of this job.”
Montes has officially put in for her retirement from FHP after 27 years on the job. As she reflects over her career, she mused about women in law enforcement.
“You know, I think we had the first female trooper back in the early 80s. And when I came on, in the 90s, there was a quite a few females here in Central Florida that had become state troopers, really good role models, people that I could talk to, and I’ve seen that progress. I think now, it’s not even a thought about male and female police officers, it kind of goes just hand-in-hand, they complement each other on scenes, they kind of work together, kind of different aspects on how to get through things. So I think in the last 15 years, it really hasn’t been about male or female police officers, because it has been so common now to see a female officer that it’s not even thought about anymore,” Montes said. “I think for women, they have to realize, as I did, I would never want to get a job just because I’m a woman. I want everybody out there to know that I earned it. And that if I stood beside a man, and I got something over that, it’s I earned that. And I think women need to look at law enforcement when they come in not trying to prove themselves, but just trying to do the best job they can.”
“What’s the future have in store for you?” asked News 6 Traffic Safety Expert Steve Montiero.
“No gun, no mic, no comment,” Montes said. “I want to enjoy that life after the patrol. I think it’s just time for me and I want to have a little farm. I am a huge animal lover. I foster cats. I foster kittens. I love animals, and I just want to go do something. Who knows I may even volunteer somewhere. I just know it’s the next chapter of my life and I want to enjoy it.”
“Are you going to miss anything about the highway patrol?” Montiero asked.
“I am going to miss every day, putting on this uniform. And again, I met my husband at the highway patrol. That will be one of the biggest things I’ve taken away from this agency, is I met my lifelong partner, who I could not have done this job without him. But the people I’ve met, and to be able to mentor, it is something special that I will carry with me forever,” Montes said. “Even though I didn’t pick this job within the highway patrol as my focus, it picked me. I think it was the right path for me.”