TAMPA, Fla. — Dozen gathered for an emotional tribute Wednesday night, honoring 17 members of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office who have died in the line of duty.
The memorial service returned with a new name this year after the annual ceremony was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic.'
Family members of Sgt. Brian LaVigne helped unveil his name on the agency’s Fallen Heroes Memorial. LaVigne was struck and killed by Travis Garrett, who was attempting to escape arrest on January 11.
“I’m hopeful that ceremonies like this will help bring even just a semblance of comfort to the families of our fallen heroes,” said Sheriff Chad Chronister. “Reminding them that their fallen hero will be remembered forever.”
Chronister paused while addressing the crowd, saying he was overcome with emotion recalling the night he had to inform LaVigne’s family their loved one would not return home.
“Their husband, their father was just murdered and it was probably, by far, the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do as sheriff," Sheriff Chronister said.
Chronister said LaVigne’s daughter, a deputy with HCSO, is now volunteering to help teach new recruits, using her personal loss to illustrate the sacrifice some make.
HAPPENING TONIGHT: @HCSOSheriff honors Sgt. Brian LaVigne, unveiling his name on the agency’s fallen officer memorial. The families of two other HCSO deputies also killed in the line of duty reflect on their loss. @abcactionnews pic.twitter.com/5yVFknt9au— Ryan Smith (@RyanReports) April 28, 2021
Attorney General Ashley Moody served as guest speaker for the ceremony.
Moody said 12 law enforcement officers lost their lives in the line of duty between January and March this year, triple the number during that same period in 2020.
“Every day I go to work, put the uniform on, I know he’s looking down somewhere proud to say that’s my sister,” said Deputy Katelyn Kotfila.
Kotfila’s brother, John, was a Hillsborough County deputy who lost his life due to a wrong-way driver in 2016. The sudden death inspired Kotfila to join the agency.
She says the annual ceremony is never easy, but a necessary tribute.
“It’s hard to go through that every time but I know it means a lot to my family,” said Kotfila.
It was announced this week that State Attorney Andrew Warren is not seeking the death penalty in Travis Garrett’s case, focusing on first-degree murder and life in prison.
“We charged Garrett with first-degree murder because this was a deliberate, premeditated attack on law enforcement. However, that fact alone doesn’t justify the death penalty under Florida law — and after careful consideration of all the relevant factors, we’ve determined that capital punishment is not appropriate.”