A Florida woman says a deputy sacrificed himself by becoming a human shield to protect her and her boyfriend in a wrong-way crash.
Hillsborough County Sheriff's Deputy John Robert Kotfila Jr., 30, was memorialized on Monday as a hero not just by the couple he reportedly saved, but by several departments around the country.
“He saved my life,” 42-year-old Sarah Geren told the Tampa Tribune while describing the deadly collision on Saturday morning near Tampa, Florida.
“If he had not made that split-second decision, not only would my life be lost, but my boyfriend’s life as well,” she said.
The six-year veteran of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office was driving eastbound on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway around 2:45 a.m. when Geren says a car came toward her and her boyfriend in the wrong direction. She says she desperately flashed her lights at the oncoming driver to no avail, but then Kotfila sped up and wedged his car between the couple's vehicle and the oncoming car just seconds before they would have collided.
“I started to pull over to the side of the road, but that hadn’t even occurred all the way when the officer rushed around me,” Geren told local NBC affiliate WFLA-TV. “One or two seconds after he passed me, he hit the car, instead of me."
“This man put himself in front of us as a human shield. Absolutely. He definitely saw what was going on," she said.
The other driver, 31-year-old Erik McBeth, died at the scene. Kotfila was transported to a local hospital where he died of his injuries, his department said in a release. It’s not immediately known if drugs or alcohol were involved in the crash.
"I know the citizens of Hillsborough County -- and from all corners of this great nation -- join HCSO as we mourn. But this sadness is tempered with an enduring pride that our deputy fought the good fight. That is our vow -- then, now and tomorrow," Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said in a statement.
Kotfila will be laid to rest in his home state of Massachusetts. He is the son of Massachusetts State Police Sgt. John R. Kotfila Sr. and brother of Falmouth, Massachusetts police officer Michael Kotfila.
Both the Massachusetts State Police and Falmouth Police Department honored him in statements posted on social media, with state police calling Kotfila's death “a final heroic act.”