A six-year veteran of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office was killed on Saturday morning as he attempted to shield a driver from a head-on collision. Deputy John Kotfila, Jr., 30, was returning from a local hospital after investigating another traffic crash at approximately 3 a.m. when he apparently spotted a driver proceeding in the wrong direction on the Selmon Expressway near Brandon Parkway. The driver was headed directly towards another vehicle traveling in the eastbound lanes near the east end of the Expressway. According to the driver of the second vehicle, Deputy Kotfila came up fast behind her, passed her, and positioned his own vehicle to take the brunt of the impact.
Fox 13 reports that the deputy was rushed to Tampa General Hospital after the crash but was pronounced dead at the hospital.
Sarah Geren, the driver of the second vehicle, told the Tampa Bay Times that she was certain that the deputy sacrificed himself to save her life. Geren, 42, described what happened.
“I feel like he was trying to be a human shield. It was hard to understand first what exactly happened. Until he passed me, I wasn’t even aware there was an officer behind me.”
Geren states that she saw Officer Kotfila’s vehicle and the first vehicle, a sports-utility vehicle, collide. The impact of the two vehicles scattered dust and debris all over the hood of her car. Due to the nature of the crash, she was certain that there would be no survivors. She immediately dialed 911.
She was driving home, Geren stated, just as she had done countless times before when she saw the glare of the oncoming headlights of the first vehicle. Her boyfriend was in the car with her. She initially believed that her eyes were fooling her, but when she realized that the vehicle was actually approaching her, she began to flash her headlights. The first vehicle continued to approach and appeared to accelerate. She was attempting to pull off of the road when Deputy Kotfila’s cruiser passed and pulled in front of her.
Geren could not express enough how much she appreciated Deputy Kotfila’s sacrifice.
“He saved my life. If this deputy had not made a split second decision to pull around me, that would’ve been me dying. I was a random person on a random road on a random time. I didn’t know him. And I love him for saving me.”
Deputy John R. Kotfila, Jr. Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. EOW: 3/12/2016 pic.twitter.com/5pMPlJPm4I— 53 Hours©™ (@53Hours) March 13, 2016
According to ABC Action News, Deputy Kotfila was well liked by his colleagues and superiors. Many of his coworkers stated that he had a good attitude and was well rounded. They also said that he was known by his frequent smile, which was contagious.
In addition to his primary duties as a traffic crash investigator, Deputy John Kotfila, Jr. was also a member of the sheriff’s office’s SafetyNet Team, a team which he helped to found. Its purpose is to locate missing adults and children with special needs who tend to wander away from home.
The driver of the first vehicle has been identified as Erik Thomas McBeth, 31, of Hudson, Florida. He was pronounced dead at the scene. He was previously employed as a branch manager for BB&T, owned an Australian shepherd, and had no criminal record. Authorities are awaiting the results of a toxicology report to determine whether or not alcohol was a factor in the crash.
Sgt. Eric Powell, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office’s Safety Net team leader, spoke of the sheriff’s office’s sentiments about Deputy Kotfila.
“We’re all going to miss him and we loved him. The energy he brought and the life he brought to this office and to this community, and I think we need to celebrate that.”
Memorial services for Deputy Kotfila will take place in Massachusetts, his home state, on March 22. A smaller service will be held in the Tampa Bay area on Friday.
[Photo by Craig Ruttle/AP Images]