Deputy, driver die in wrong-way crash

Posted at 7:09 AM, Mar 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-13 23:59:42-04

The Tampa Bay area is mourning the loss of a Hillsborough County deputy, who was killed in a devastating wrong-way crash.

Deputy John Kotfila, Jr., 30, died, as did the wrong-way driver, 31-year-old Erik McBeth.

Flags are flying at half staff at all sheriff's office locations in memory of Deputy John Kotfila. And as those in the law enforcement community, and people all across the community, continue to mourn, some are wondering whether enough is being done to prevent  wrong way crashes.

Deputy John Kotfila was hit by a wrong-way driver on the Selmon Expressway early Saturday morning.  His cruiser was ripped apart on impact.

"When something happens, it draws you very close together and this is not only a loss to the HCSO, but to all the law enforcement men and women who are trying to do their job and get home alive," said Col. Greg Brown with the Hillsborough Co. Sheriff's Office.

Kirby Lavallee knows that feeling. As a former DUI investigator with the sheriff's office, he was often called to the same crashes Deputy Kotfila was working.

"It could be a simple crash, you know, rear end crash, and he would really give that service to the public, and he would really work very hard for everybody, not just do the bare minimum.  He was always one of those guys who would go above and beyond.  Just a real genuinely good guy," said Lavallee.

While Lavallee is saddened by the loss of a colleague and friend,  he's also frustrated Deputy Kotfila was the victim of yet another wrong-way driver crash, the fifth person to die in such accidents in the area just this year.

"Nobody should've had to die at any point in all the deaths that we've had up until this point, you know.  But maybe now that it was a law enforcement officer, maybe they'll wake up.  Maybe now it's, 'Hey.  We have an issue.'  And it's sad sometimes things have to happen so many times before they figure out, 'What are we going to do about it?'" said Lavallee.

FDOT says it is taking the problem seriously.  After 17 deadly wrong-way crashes in the Tampa Bay area in 2014, it installed a series of  flashing lights and signs along exit ramps last year, hoping to prevent crashes.

Because they've not been in place even a year yet, there's not enough data to know if they're helping.  But FDOT says similar lighted signs have helped in south Florida. And it notes the majority of wrong-way accidents involve impaired drivers.

Lavallee believes both issues could be helped, with more officers on the roads.

"I mean we don't have enough resources as it is to answer the calls for service. Let alone to react in a split second if a wrong way driver is reported," Lavallee said.

More details about the investigation in the crash that killed Deputy Kotfila aren't expected until Monday.

Remembrance service for deputy expected Friday

Family members of John Kotfila Jr. said Sunday afternoon that a service for the fallen deputy is expected Friday. Katelyn Kotfila told ABC Action News that family members from his hometown in Massachusetts are flying down to the Tampa Bay area earlier this week.

"He loved what he did and he had a lot of good friends in the department," said Katelyn Kotfila.

Investigators said Kotfila was hit and killed early Saturday morning when his patrol car collided with Erik McBeth's vehicle. Investigators said McBeth was traveling the wrong way on the Selmon Expressway.

Deputy Kotfila had been with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office for six years. He had aspirations of becoming a traffic homicide detective.