A Tampa, Florida, deputy put himself in the way of a wrong-way driver and an oncoming vehicle, killing himself and potentially saving the lives of two others.
Deputy John Kotfila Jr., 30, of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office (HCSO), was killed on March 12 when his car was hit by wrong-way driver Erik McBeth. McBeth, 31, reportedly ignored warnings that the expressway was only open to eastbound traffic and headed west in the early morning hours. He also died in the crash.
Sarah Geren, who was there when the crash occurred, told Fox 13 News that she was driving in front of Kotfila when she saw McBeth's headlights coming toward her.
"As I realized that the car was coming at me and coming faster and faster, I was flashing my lights crazily at him like a strobe light, like click, click, click, click, click," Geren, who was with her boyfriend at the time, said.
Geren then pulled to the side of the road.
"The moment that I started to pull over, [the deputy] raced around me and I think he literally made a split second decision and said, 'I'm going to try to stop this car from being in the accident,'" she said.
She believed that Kotfila was trying to protect her vehicle from colliding with McBeth's.
"He saved my life," she told WFTS. "If this deputy had not made a split second decision to pull around me, that would've been me dying."
"It's a man that saved my daughter and he is a national hero," Jim Karom, Geren's father, told Fox 13 News. "He saved two lives and probably countless others because if that hadn't have happened, there could have been more cars behind. there was no mistakes made. He did everything he did intentionally and he saved my daughter and her boyfriend and I thank him."
Kotfila's coworkers praised him for his bravery and dedication to the job. He worked as a crash investigator as well as a member of the sheriff's office safety net team, which located missing people.
"John was selected because of his attitude," Sgt. Jeff Massaro of the HCSO told WFTS. "He was just a well rounded person that you wanted to be around. And when he was with you, things were just nice."
Kotfila was the son of a Massachusetts State Police Sgt. John Kotfila and the brother of Falmouth, Massachusetts, police officer Michael Kotfila, the Boston Herald reports. Michael's Colonel, Richard McKeon, issued a statement following the tragic death.
"Sergeant Kotfila, the deputy’s father, is a veteran member of the Massachusetts State Police currently assigned to the Bourne Barracks," McKeon's statement reads, according to the Boston Herald. "He is a highly respected member of the law enforcement community. Our prayers tonight are with him, his wife, and their two surviving children.
"It is clear that Sergeant Kotfila instilled in his children the same sense of duty, dedication, and service to others that he himself has embraced throughout his career.”