Florida

Driver: Deputy killed in Florida wrong-way crash saved my life

Sarah Geren said Hillsborough County sheriff’s Deputy John Kotfila pulled in front of her car at the last instant before Kotfila himself was struck and killed by a wrong-way driver.
Sarah Geren said Hillsborough County sheriff’s Deputy John Kotfila pulled in front of her car at the last instant before Kotfila himself was struck and killed by a wrong-way driver.

Sarah Geren is convinced the deputy killed in a wrong-way crash over the weekend on a Tampa expressway sacrificed himself to save her life.

Hillsborough County sheriff's Deputy John Kotfila was driving behind Geren about 2:45 a.m. Saturday when he suddenly accelerated and pulled in front of her, putting himself in the path of a sport utility vehicle barreling down the expressway toward the two cars.

“I feel like he was trying to be a human shield,” Geren, 42, said Monday outside the Sheriff's Fallen Heroes Memorial.

Geren watched the two collide, scattering dust and debris over the hood of her car. The impact was so great, the sound so loud, she was convinced no one could have survived. Hands shaking, she dialed 911.

“It was hard to understand first what exactly happened,” Geren said. “Until he passed me, I wasn’t even aware there was an officer behind me.”

It all happened so fast, Geren recalled. She was driving home from Ybor City to Valrico, traveling a route she had driven countless times before. As she neared Falkenburg Road, she saw headlights approaching. At first, she figured her eyes were fooling her.

“Is that really a car driving on this side of the road?” she thought.”No, that couldn’t be.”

She started to panic, flashing her lights in attempts to warn the driver. But the car kept coming, seemingly moving faster and faster. She turned her wheel to the side and attempted to pull off the road. That’s when Kotfila’s cruiser sped past her.

“I feel certain in my heart that he knew exactly what was about to happen to me,” Geren said, “and that he sacrificed himself instead.”

The SUV's driver, Erik Thomas McBeth, 31, of Hudson, died at the scene, which was just west of Interstate 75. Kotfila, 30, died at Tampa General Hospital.

Go to tampabay.com for the full story.

  Comments