By Tamas Mondovics

At the order of Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee all flags at HCSO facilities were lowered earlier this month to be flown at half staff in honor of Deputy John Kotfila, Jr. who had lost his life after a wrong way driver slammed head on into his cruiser on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.

Kotfila, 30, of Valrico was in his HCSO Marked Patrol Car, a 2013 Dodge Charger, driving back from Tampa General Hospital following a traffic crash investigation and was traveling eastbound on the Expressway. Just west of the I-75 overpass, Kotfila was unable to avoid the crash and was struck head-on by the wrong way driver Erik Thomas McBeth, 32 of Hudson, FL. 

McBeth died at the scene, while Deputy Kotfila was transported to Tampa General Hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.

“All of the traffic control devices were in working order showing the ramp closed to westbound traffic,” HCSO spokesman Larry McKinnon said.

Shortly following the terrible news, Gee stated, “Our HCSO family is one less today. The tragic loss of one of my deputies has all of our hearts heavy. The most dreaded part of being Sheriff of Hillsborough County is getting the news that a deputy has lost his or her life in the line of duty. 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. Gee’s words were quickly followed by an outpouring of condolences on the part of local government leaders and members of the community.

Chairman Lesley “Les” Miller, Jr. on behalf of the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners stated in part, “Hillsborough County has suffered a tragedy today….It is unfortunate that anyone has to experience the grief and pain from a fatal traffic incident, but especially for our law enforcement officers who dedicate their lives to keeping each of us safe. On behalf of all of the citizens of Hillsborough County, I offer condolences and prayers to Deputy Kotfila’s family, and the family of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.”

Florida State Governor Rick Scott said, “Ann and I are heartbroken by the death of Deputy John Robert Kotfila, whose tragic loss will not only be felt by his family members and fellow officers, but also by Floridians across the state. Our law enforcement officers bravely and selflessly risk their lives to protect us. As Governor, I honor the sacrifices these heroic men and women in uniform make to serve our families. Our deepest thoughts and prayers are with the family and colleagues of Deputy Kotfila.”

The loss of any member of the HCSO family is especially painful not only to the agency and fellow officers, but also to the entire community.

As a founding member of the agency’s SafetyNet Team, John’s special area of expertise also included the assisting families of missing adults and children with special needs who tend to wander from home. The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office was pleased to partner with SafetyNet by LoJack to better respond to such calls for service.

Ironically, Kotfila, a 6-year veteran served the community as a Traffic Crash Investigator to Patrol District 4. His father Sergeant John Kotfila Sr. is with the Massachusetts State Police and his brother Michael Kotfila is with the Plymouth Police Department, MA.

While reflecting on his deputy’s law enforcement heritage and the question of how to go on in the face of such tragedy, Gee emphasized the sorrow felt by the entire community when he said, “We will embrace our deputy’s family with the honor and respect due one who dedicated his life ‘to serve and protect.’ Thank you for your prayers for our deputy and his family.” 

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