A Florida deputy is being hailed as a hero after he reportedly sacrificed his life by driving his cruiser in the path of a wrong-way driver – ahead of another driver who otherwise would have been struck.
Deputy John Kotfila, 30, was killed in the crash, as was the 31-year-old wrong-way driver, Erik McBeth. The wrong-way car accident happened in Hillsborough County around 2:45 a.m. on the Leroy Selmon Expressway.
The 41-year-old woman who was saved said the deputy saw the imminent danger she faced and made a split-second and heroic decision to sacrifice his own life to save her.
When she first saw the headlights moving toward her, she thought her eyes were playing tricks on her. She didn’t believe someone could be coming that fast at her from the other direction. She tried to slow down and move to the other side, but the vehicle behind her sped up and passed her and drove immediately in front of her. It was then she realized it was a law enforcement officer who had passed her – and the headlights coming in their direction were not an optical illusion.
She said as a traffic crash investigator, this was not someone who was unaware of the situation or of what he was doing.
At Kotfila’s funeral, held recently in Massachusetts, where the deputy was from, those remembering him said his actions were unsurprising because it’s exactly the sort of thing he would do.
But it should never have happened. Authorities are still investigating whether alcohol may have been a factor in why the other driver was going the wrong-way in the first place.
Last year, the Florida Department of Transportation completed its statewide wrong way crash report, which revealed there were 280 wrong-way crashes in the five years between 2009 and 2013 in the state. Those resulted in 75 deaths and more than 400 injuries.
The most common characteristics associated with wrong way crashes on Florida highways include:
- Driver impairment
- Late night/ early morning driving
- Weekend driving
- Urban area driving
- Multiple-vehicle crashes
- 16-24-year-old drivers
- Over-65 drivers
Most wrong-way car accidents in Florida are the result of someone entering an exit ramp on the highway.
In a situation like this, decedent’s family may have several avenues of compensation for the unimaginable loss of their loved one. Of course, none of it will bring him back, but it will allow them to regain their financial footing.
The first of those, because the deputy was on-duty at the time of the collision, is workers’ compensation death benefits, provided through the employer’s insurer.
The second option his survivors will have is legal action against the estate of decedent driver, who will almost assuredly been deemed at-fault in the crash. In the event decedent was not insured – or only had a base-level of insurance – decedent may be able to pursue coverage from his own personal uninsured/ underinsured motorist coverage policy. Claimants should be mindful that whatever those benefits may be offset to some degree by the workers’ compensation benefits.
The final avenue to explore would be whether there was some poor road design feature that played a causal role in the crash (i.e., a broken or confusing wrong-way signs on the exit ramp).
Call Freeman Injury Law — 1-800-561-7777 for a free appointment to discuss your rights. Now serving Orlando, West Palm Beach, Port St. Lucie and Fort Lauderdale.
Woman Says Florida Deputy Killed in Car Accident Was Trying to Save Her, March 15, 2016, By Emily Shapiro, ABC News
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Brown v. Davis – $3M Car Accident Verdict Affirmed, March 17, 2016, Fort Lauderdale Car Accident Lawyer Blog