A family's tragedy, a new honor and legacy following Hillsborough deputy's death

A family's tragedy, a new honor, a legacy continued following HCSO deputy's death

TAMPA, Fla. -- For John and Theresa Kotfila, it was bittersweet to see their daughter join the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

“She's going to be out on the roads that her brother lost his life on so it's good and bad,” Theresa said.

Law enforcement is a dangerous job, and it takes a special person to wear the badge.

For Katelyn Kotfila, she's taking an extra leap of faith.

“It's definitely tough, it was hard when my parents came up to pin me,” she said.  

She chose to move to Florida and follow in her brother's footsteps. 

“He died in March and I think it was maybe May that I actually applied.”

Growing up, they were always the closest of four siblings. He always wanted her to move down from Massachusetts. But, they would never get the chance to work together.

John Robert Kotfila, Jr. died last year when he was hit head on by a wrong-way driver. It happened on the Selmon Expressway after he just finished investigating another crash.

“When I went downstairs and heard those words, I lost it. I was absolutely useless after that. I just remember being on the ground,” John, Sr. said.

“I just said where's John Robert, where's John Robert? And, I just and then it was okay, get me the phone numbers, get me this, get me that,” Theresa said.

One consoling factor, might be how he served. His personnel file was filled with notes of how compassionate he was, including one from the family involved in a crash he visited at the hospital, something he didn't have to do.  

After leaving, his crash would happen. But, not before helping out one last person.

“When we got here, they immediately said there's someone here that wants to see you.”

That was Sarah Garen. She says he saved her life by putting his cruiser between  her car and the wrong-way driver barreling towards them.

“She said I looked over and he looked over at me and I saw it was a sheriff deputy and she says I looked him right in the eyes and I know he knew, I know he knew what he was doing,” Theresa said.  

John Robert not only loved people, but also his German shepherd, Dexter. Now a dog park dawns his name under the highway where he died and his sister will carry on the legacy of the Kotfila family.

“I think he would just be really proud of me, he would be happy,” Katelyn said.  

“It's her moment, it's her time,” Theresa said.

The Kotfilas are now fighting to strengthen DUI laws in Massachusetts and Florida with interlock ignition devices.

The measure in Florida failed this past legislative session, but say they will not give up until change is made even if it helps just one family.

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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