Young Woman's Tragic Crash Yields Viral Death Video: The Story of Dayna Kempson

Parents of young woman killed in crash fight to get morbid video offline.

June 23, 2011, 11:06 AM

June 24, 2011 — -- It was a video no parents should have to watch, or worse, see spread virally across the Internet -- footage of the body of their beautiful daughter lying crumpled in a crushed car, surrounded by the sounds of callous voices casually discussing the remains.

"Most people that love someone don't get the opportunity to see their loved one in a state of their death," said Jeff Kempson. "You don't know what these things look like and how graphic they are."

Watch the full story tonight at 10 p.m. on the "20/20" special, "We Find Them."

At age 23, Kempson's daughter, Dayna, was a single mom with two children. An active young woman, her parents said she was coming to a crossroads in her life. She was making more mature decisions and had planned to go back to school.

"I would sit back and say, you know, I think Dayna's starting to turn the corner," Jeff Kempson said.

See photos of Dayna Kempson and her parents.

But before the Kempsons could watch their daughter bloom, tragedy cut her life short. On July 17, 2010, after spending the night out with friends in Griffin, Ga., Dayna Kempson lost control of her red Jeep and careened across four lanes of highway traffic, her car tumbling over itself until it came to a stop against a row of trees.

Around 3:30 a.m., after wondering why their daughter wasn't picking up her phone, Jeff and Lucretia Kempson heard that knock on the door that every parent dreads.

"The county coroner and the sheriff came and spoke with us," Jeff Kempson said. "If there is a blessing in this, the coroner told us that she did not suffer, that it was immediate."

Like others who have lost children, the Kempsons were shattered. But unlike other grieving parents, the couple would soon experience something that made coping with their daughter's death all the more painful: Two months after Dayna Kempson's fatal crash, the Kempsons discovered the moments after Dayna died were filmed and the video had gone viral.

"I received a phone call from my sister that her ex-husband had received a video via his cell phone," Jeff Kempson said.

Kempson couldn't believe what he was hearing. He contacted the man with the video and asked where he got it, only to learn it was being passed around town and online for ghouls to enjoy.

"He was just in that chain reaction of the video being sent from person to person," Jeff Kempson said. "He could have been the 200th person to have got the video. He could have been the 1,000th person who got the video. Unfortunately, we don't know."

When the Kempsons saw the video, they were shocked not only by the graphic images of their daughter's remains but by the calm, casual manner with which the voices on the recording discussed their daughter's condition, pointing out pieces of her body parts in the car.

"They were disrespectful to her," Lucretia Kempson said. "She was a person, and it's like she wasn't even there."

She said that a few weeks later, her daughter's former church youth group leader called her to say that she, too, had been sent the video.

"[She] told me, 'Lucretia, I'm very sorry ... I got the video. The video was sent to me," Lucretia Kempson said.

The Kempsons eventually learned that at the accident scene where their daughter died, one of the emergency responders -- a firefighter -- inexplicably took out his cell phone and filmed Dayna Kempson's badly damaged body. The video was shared, going viral as it was passed around the county Dayna grew up in and eventually posted on the Internet. In the click of a mouse, a young woman's life legacy was wiped out, her name now synonymous with just another gruesome death video for ghouls lurking in the dark corners of the web to seek out for their macabre enjoyment.

The Kempsons found the video on YouTube and a blog site. After the Kempsons contacted YouTube and the blog, the video was removed from both quickly, but where it traveled from there is anyone's guess, and to this day traces of the video remain online.

"When you Google Dayna's name, there's just pages and pages and pages," Lucretia Kempson said. "I'll get an e-mail [saying] you can find Dayna's video here. I look because I don't want her video anywhere out there. And, it's not there, and there will be comments and people saying, 'This was just a hoax. Where can I find the video?' Why do they wanna see this stuff?"

The hunger for Dayna Kempson's video and others like it seem to expose the dark side of human nature festering on the Web. The center of the spread and propagation of these videos are a distinct breed of Internet ghouls known as trolls, according to Michael Fertik, CEO of

"The profile of the person who typically is a troll is pretty specific: It's usually men, aged, sort of, 14 to 30," Fertik said. "[They're] often sexually frustrated people who are living out fantasies and feeling empowered by being behind their keyboard and empowered by being able to visit pain on other people."

Fertik's company specializes in helping people like the Kempsons find and counteract harmful content on the Web. Although the Dayna Kempson video may now be hard to find, he said, it is most likely very much still out there.

"Unfortunately, the Internet has no delete button," Feritk said. "Getting things removed from the Web is both difficult and, in some times, impossible, especially if you are faced with somebody who is a dedicated troll or a dedicated enemy of your family, even if they don't know you."

The fact that it was a video taken of Dayna Kempson, instead of photos, may in some ways be a small blessing for the Kempsons. According to Fertik, there are much fewer websites that host video, compared to the many that host photographs.

Dayna Kempson's story is eerily similar to another young woman who lost her life at an early age, Nikki Catsouras. Photographs, not video, of Catursouas' corpse went viral after a member of the California Highway Patrol allegedly shared them with friends. Catsouras is, unfortunately, the icon in the ghoulish Internet subculture.

"The Catsouras case is the worst one we've ever seen," Fertik said. "I heard from their family just a few days after we [started], our website. We were able to get, I think, the photographs removed from something like 3,000 websites but when the story went national and viral it [was] just impossible," Fertik said.

One site with Catsouras' pictures generated 719,264 views, according to Fertik. When the photos were first posted, trolls bombarded the Catsouras family with the images through emails and fake MySpace and YouTube pages complete with sadistic commentary.

"The Internet does not discriminate," Fertik said. "It does not care if you have a decent family, it does not care how you live your life. The random guy or gal sitting in his or her basement 1,000 miles away can visit devastating harm on you and your family in the blink of an eye without any recourse, without any remorse and without your ever being able to find out who they are."

There are a few ways people like the Kempsons can fight back against a video or pictures they want removed from the Web, Fertik said.

The first step is to reach out to the site hosting the content to ask that it be removed. But beware, Fertik said: It's only a step you should take if you believe that the site's administrators will comply.

Sometimes, "the content gets hosted on a site that's really run by nasty people who are snarky and they take it upon themselves not only to deny the removal of content but to celebrate the fact that you're trying to get it removed," Fertik said. "So you actually may exacerbate the problem."

In those instances, Fertik said, another course of action is populating Google search results for the person depicted in the content. By flooding the Internet with positive material, videos, websites and tributes, it may bury the negative material past the first page of the Google results.

For the average person, doing something like that may be difficult. But Fertik's and other companies do provide such services. Fertik said his company's site also has free tools people can use.

The most concrete way to fight back, Fertik said, is for the Kempsons and others to try and obtain copyright to the material they want off the Web. By law, that will force the sites who are hosting it to remove it.

"If you can somehow get the copyright of that video, then, actually, the law backs you up," he said. "In that case, the person who hosts the content, the video, if they receive a claim of copyright from you, under law they are obligated to remove it. Otherwise, they become liable."

The Kempsons are concerned not just for their daughter's legacy but for her sons' well-being. They worry about what will happen when the two boys are old enough to start using computers themselves. Could they find videos of their mother?

Children's online safety expert Mary Kay Hoal said that the Kempsons can be proactive about protecting their grandsons by signing up for email alerts to notify them whenever the video resurfaces somewhere.

On any device the boys use to access the Web, Hoal said, the Kempsons should set filters through tools like Google Safe Search and YouTube Safe View mode that limit what sites and content the children have access to.

"Those are easy steps that the grandparents can take that help mitigate the chances of the children seeing the video," Hoal said.

The Kempsons hope they can prevent the creation of other exploitative accident videos by lobbying for a law that would prohibit first responders from using their personal devices to take unofficial pictures or video at an accident scene.

It would be "something either locally, state, or federally, to try and get something passed where these gentlemen follow the rules," Jeff Kempson said. "They respect the dead.They respect the injured. And they do their job accordingly. That's what their paid to do. That's what we expect them to do." (Learn more at the Justice for Dayna Kempson Facebook page.)

The Kempsons have met with Georgia Congressman Lynn Westmoreland. Westmoreland issued a statement to "20/20" noting that an existing Georgia law, the Meredith Emerson Memorial Privacy Act, addresses the use of gruesome crime scene photos but added that the law should be strengthened. He said he intends "to continue to work with state and local officials to ensure that something like this does not happen to another family."

Two months after the crash, when the video was fully surfaced, an investigation by Spalding County officials found that Spalding County Firefighter Terrence Reid, a nine-year fire department veteran, was responsible for the video. He told investigators he had taken it because he "had never seen an event like that before."

Reid was fired from the Spalding County Fire Department. The investigation found seven other firefighters at fault in some capacity for what happened, including Reid's commander on the scene that night, Capt. Lee Slaughter.

Slaughter, as acting scene commander, was chastised in the investigators' report for not properly supervising the scene and for being unaware Reid was taking the video.

Slaughter agreed to speak to "20/20" to apologize to the Kempsons on behalf of the fire department. During the investigation, he said, he was prohibited from contacting the couple.

"We never got an opportunity to tell the family," he said, "that we're very sorry that this happened and we did not, or do not condone what his young man did." (Watch Slaughter's apology here.)

The Kempsons said that's the first official apology they've received. They're still waiting for one from Terrence Reid.

"20/20" correspondent Jim Avila and a crew tracked Reid down after he and his lawyer declined "20/20's" request for an interview.

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