A deputy with the Hillsborough County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Office, Kotfila comes from a law enforcement family: his father and brother are cops in Massachusetts. Dep. Kotfila was hit by a wrong-way expressway driver in Tampa in the early morning hours of March 12. The 31-year-old wrong-way driver was killed on impact. At first, investigators chalked the crash up to the ongoing problem with wrong-way drivers in the area. Kotfila, in fact, had just left Tampa General Hospital, where he was doing a crash investigation, when he was hit. “It… appears the deputy was trying to get out of the way,” said HCSO Colonel Greg Brown. “This is highlighting a much bigger issue between distracted driving and DUI. At this time of night, there are a lot of people who have been consuming alcoholic beverages out on the road, but we need to pay attention to what we are doing on the road.” Brown noted that all deputies are “very concerned about the drivers at night. In fact, [Kotfila] had hoped to become a traffic homicide investigator at some point in his career.”
But then a witness stepped forward. Sarah Geren said she was on her way home from work when she saw the wrong-way driver coming right at her. Her boyfriend was also in the car. “I started to pull over to the side of the road, but that hadn’t even occurred all the way when the officer rushed around me,” she says. Geren is sure Kotfila intentionally sacrificed himself to save her and her boyfriend. “This man put himself in front of us as a human shield. Absolutely. He definitely saw what was going on.” John Robert Kotfila Jr, who was with the HCSO for six years, died from his injuries at Tampa General later on March 12 — the 19th American law enforcement officer to die in the line of duty this year. He was 30.