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Thursday, May 23, 2024

We at the Alligator would like to dedicate this editorial to Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Deputy John Robert Kotfila Jr. 

Early Saturday morning, the deputy sacrificed himself by driving his patrol car straight between what would have been a wrong-way crash on westbound Lee Roy Selmon Expressway. He saved driver Sarah Geren and her boyfriend from a wrong-way driver barreling eastbound straight toward them. A few of our staffers are from the Tampa area, so this incident and Kotfila’s death hit very close to home.

We could never say enough to overstate this man’s bravery. As human beings, the core aspects of our character are measured by our reactions to high-pressure, fight-or-flight situations. As Geren told reporters, Kotfila had no more than a few seconds to analyze what was happening and decide how best to respond. We at the Alligator are truly stunned and moved by Kotfila’s character and willingness to sacrifice himself for complete strangers in the utter blink of an eye.

Even when those close to Kotfila received news of his response, they admittedly felt little surprise; that’s just the kind of man he was. 

Furthermore, he’ll also be remembered as a founding member of the SafetyNet team, a program designed to help locate special-needs adults and children who’ve wandered from home. The terms “hero,” “inspiration” and “role model” are thrown around pretty often, but we feel this man has earned each of these titles and the utmost respect. In times of strife and frustration, the actions and integrity of people like Kotfila are enough to restore one’s faith in humanity.

Unfortunately, these wrong-way crashes responsible for Kotfila’s death occur more frequently than one would presume. Fellow Tampanians may remember back in February 2014 when four students from the University of South Florida died on impact from a wrong-way crash on Interstate 275. Last year alone, more than 100 Floridians died in wrong-way crashes. 

Preventative measures are being taken to curtail the number of injuries and deaths from these incidents, such as the introduction of new radar-detector, light-flashing wrong way signs, which as of August 2015, successfully prevented six wrong-way drivers from further entering highways. But unfortunately, as HCSO reported, all wrong-way signs and signals were running properly at the time of the crash that took Kotfila’s life.

Moreover, in an age when issues such as police-community relations remain in the back of our minds, it’s a true honor to witness and be reminded of such brave civil servants who fight diligently for the safety of their communities, showing full well what it means to serve and protect the public, no matter the consequences.

All of us Alligator staffers offer our deepest condolences to the friends and family of Deputy Kotfila and to the loved ones of so many other victims to wrong-way crashes. In these times of grief, we hold our loved ones close and let the courage and humanity displayed by everyday heroes like Deputy Kotfila resonate in our own lives. Rest in peace.

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