(TAMPA, Fla.) — A woman who allegedly barely avoided a head-on collision on a Florida expressway believes that a young deputy, who died in the highway crash, put his life on the line to save her.
At about 2:45 a.m. Saturday, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call reporting a driver heading west in an eastbound lane of the Leroy Selmon Expressway, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office said.
A Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Deputy, John Robert Kotfila, Jr., had just left a traffic crash investigation and was driving east on the Expressway in his marked patrol car when he and the wrong-way driver collided, the sheriff’s office said.
The sheriff’s office said “the deputy was unable to avoid the crash and the vehicles struck head-on.”
The wrong-way driver, identified as 31-year-old Erik Thomas McBeth of Hudson, Florida, died at the scene, said the sheriff’s office.
Deputy Kotfila, 30, was taken to a hospital where he died, said the sheriff’s office. Kotfila, a traffic crash investigator, had worked at the sheriff’s office for six years.
Sarah Geren, 41, who was driving on the expressway with her boyfriend, told ABC News Tuesday she thinks the deputy saw “imminent danger and wanted to protect me.”
Geren said a car had been behind her for awhile when she was getting towards the end of the expressway and “noticed some headlights in the distance in front of me. And I thought to myself, ‘That could not be somebody up there driving towards me.'”
“I started flashing my lights at this person,” she said. “I was afraid. I continued flashing lights but it didn’t appear to affect this person at all. I decided if I didn’t do something, I would die.”
Geren said she started to slow down and move to the side of the road, but then the car behind her sped up and tried to pass her.
Geren said, “Right as the car gets next to me I look at it…I realize this person is not even passing me in the left lane, they’re passing me as closely as they possibly can and they’re going faster.”
Geren saw the sheriff’s logo and recalls, “I screamed out, ‘Oh my God, it’s a cop.'”
“I had no idea this person was an officer until the moment he was right next to me,” she explained. “He was basically just able to get in front of me, and not a second or two later the oncoming driver and him, their paths crossed.”
Reflecting on the deadly crash, Geren told ABC News, “I absolutely feel that he [the deputy] looked at the situation that was going on and he made a split second decision to move in front of me to save me.”
“He was a traffic crash investigator — this is not a person that was unaware of their surroundings. This is a person that’s extremely aware,” she said.
“I think he thought imminent danger and wanted to protect me,” Geren said. “He is an amazing person. Who else would…give their life for someone they don’t even know.”
Kotfila “was the little brother you couldn’t help but love,” said Deputy Cale Parsons of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, according to ABC News affiliate WFTS-TV. “There was nothing about him to dislike. He was there for you when you needed him.”
“He was just a well rounded person that you wanted to be around ,” said Sgt. Jeff Massaro of the Sheriff’s Office, according to WFTS-TV.
A spokeswoman for the sheriff’s office told ABC News Tuesday that the office could not confirm or deny Geren’s claim at this point because the investigation into the crash is ongoing.
The Traffic Homicide Unit is investigating. The sheriff’s office said on Monday that it was unknown if alcohol was involved.
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