Over the years, Robert Pozo has traveled across the country to organize hundreds of running events, including the founding of the ING Miami Marathon.
His latest venture might just hit closest to home.
Back in June, Pozo’s 81-year-old mother was hit and killed by a suspected intoxicated teenage driver in South Miami Heights. She was being driven home from her retirement party.
In the wake of the tragedy, Pozo and his race-event company are throwing their expertise into helping organize next month’s charity 5K walk-run for Miami’s branch of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
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The desire to help was born through deep connections to DUI tragedies.
Pozo’s teenage daughter, Nina Pozo, was heartbroken when friend and fellow cheerleader Kaely Camacho was killed in a high-profile DUI crash in April 2012 in South Miami-Dade. Six months later, one of Pozo’s employees, Jake Young, 27, was killed in a drunk-driving accident after a race in Myrtle Beach, S.C., in October 2012.
“For us, it really is a big deal as a family,” said Robert Pozo, 46.
Said Nina Pozo, 17: “Three deaths in two years. It really is unheard of, but it happened.”
Despite a partnership rooted in heartache, the organization welcomes the help for the Walk Like MADD event aimed at fund-raising and raising awareness about drunk driving. The run takes place on Feb. 8 Tropical Park in West Miami-Dade between 7 a.m. and noon.
Pozo’s company is helping market the event to Miami’s vibrant running community, while pitching in its eight employees to operate registration tables, mark the course and put up signs the day of the event.
This time of year is race season in South Florida, and many of them are geared toward charities. Organizing an event that stands out is not easy.
With Pozo’s guidance, MADD has expanded its e-mail marketing and is distributing 20,000 fliers geared toward neighborhoods such as Key Biscayne, a hub for fitness enthusiasts. His advice has helped the vital, if unsung, logistics of the event — everything from setting up registration tables the night before to streamlining the process of handing out T-shirts and ensuring participation release forms get signed.
Organizers are expecting to boost attendance by more than 50 percent — hopefully more than 1,500 participants.
“We are great at what we do, but we’re not race organizers and we’re not marketers,” said Sally Matson, a victim’s advocate for MADD. “We’re really hoping this is the year we take off.”
Pozo offered his help after meeting Matson — herself an avid runner — during a meeting at the Miami-Dade State Atttorney’s Office in August, one designed to help the family understand the legal process in the wake of the arrest.
Said Matson: “They are a family that has been hit way too hard.”
Pozo, an accountant by training, and his wife, Gabby, began producing triathlons in 1997 with the creation of the company Swim Bike Run.
He founded the Miami Marathon, which ran its first race in 2003 and has grown into a successful event that draws thousands of runners and big-name corporate sponsors. The race will be held Sunday in Downtown Miami.
Today, Pozo operates Continental Event and Sports Management, of Palmetto Bay, which will produce 13 races this year across the country.
His mother’s death was a blow to a small family.
Maria Pozo was a civil engineer who graduated from the University of Havana. After coming to Miami in the early 1960s, she worked for decades, only reluctantly retiring.
“Work was her life,” said Pozo, an only child.
The crash happened past 1 a.m. on June 1 as Maria Pozo and her husband, Roberto Pozo, were driving home from a retirement party at a friend’s home.
Driving a van east on Southwest 192nd Street near 187th Avenue was 17-year-old Miguel Brito-Raymundo. The teen was a migrant worker driving a nursery’s company van.
According to a police report, Brito-Raymundo lost control of the van, swerving across a swale and into oncoming traffic, plowing into the Pozos’ car. He ran off on foot but was later found with the van’s key in his pocket. He also admitted driving the van and that he had consumed beer before the crash.
Several hours after the crash. Brito-Raymundo still had a blood-alcohol content level of .049, which is below the legal limit. But he tested positive for cocaine, according to a toxicology report.
He is charged with vehicular manslaughter, DUI manslaughter and leaving the scene of an accident involving a death. Brito-Raymundo has pleaded not guilty and remains jailed pending trial. His lawyer declined to comment.
As for the Pozos, they have quickly involved themselves into the raising of awareness of the perils of drunk driving. In November, they attended an annual MADD vigil, meeting relatives of other DUI victims.
Next month’s 5K at Tropical Par is a similar gathering. Many relatives form race teams to honor their loved ones killed in DUI crashes, often wearing T-shirts adorned with their photos.
The sheer amount of people who show up to support underscores the human toll of drunk drivers, said Matson. “It gives them a sense that they are not alone, that they are doing something to help raise awareness,” she said.
Said Pozo: “The movement is a lot bigger than any one person.”
If you go
What: Walk Like MADD & MADD Dash
When: Feb. 8, starting at 7:30 a.m.
Where: Tropical Park , 7900 SW 40th St,
To sign up: Visit www.WalkLikeMadd.org/Miami