TAMPA — Ever since age 12, when a deputy visited his Tampa elementary school, Mark Longway knew he wanted to work in law enforcement.
"The appearance of this sharply dressed man in uniform immediately appealed to me," he later wrote.
In 1982, he followed in his father's footsteps and donned an Air Force uniform. After 21 years of service, he retired and applied to work with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
"This uniform is just a different color," he said in an internal publication. "I'm still serving. First it was my country, now it is my county."
Tuesday morning, Longway, 48, died in his uniform.
His cruiser collided with a semitrailer truck at 5:18 a.m. at N Florida Avenue and Scott Street in downtown Tampa. He was on his way home from his night shift working as a deputy at the Port of Tampa, the Sheriff's Office said.
He leaves a wife, two adult daughters and a grandchild.
As of as Tuesday evening, the Sheriff's Office wasn't assigning blame for the crash. Chief Deputy Jose Docobo said it was apparent that either Longway or the semi driver ran a red light.
Truck driver Lamont Ashley, 39, of Davenport, told investigators he had the green light, the Sheriff's Office said. Without witnesses or a video recording, deputies said they can't be sure.
"We still need independent witnesses," said spokesman Deputy Larry McKinnon.
Calls left at a number listed for Ashley were not returned. He was driving a truck with a CVS logo. In a statement, the company said it's cooperating.
The city does not include Florida Avenue and Scott Street among its dangerous intersections. There have been 35 crashes there since 2007, records show, including one fatality in 2008.
Longway's death comes during an especially devastating year for Hillsborough County law enforcement. Two Tampa police officers were shot to death in June. Just last week, another deputy was severely injured in a six-vehicle pileup.
Deputy Deborah Walker suffered broken ribs, a 10-inch cut on her arm, a sprained neck, bruised lungs and a contusion in her spine in the accident Thursday, the Sheriff's Office said. She is expected to be released from a hospital soon, sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said.
Then, on Tuesday night, Temple Terrace Officer Tim Crocker was hospitalized after trying to pull over a driver for an illegal turn but colliding with a sport utility vehicle instead.
Deputy Longway joined the Sheriff's Office in 2004. In his six years with the agency, he received several distinctions and built a reputation as a joyful, energetic deputy who treated the people he encountered on the job with kindness and respect.
One day, at the end of Deputy Bill Stark's shift, Longway was making a routine traffic stop. He had pulled over a habitual offender, and Stark rolled up to assist with the arrest.
It was clear Longway had it under control, Stark said. By the time the man was in the deputy's cruiser, Longway already had him laughing.
"He was just that kind of person," Stark said. "He was good with citizens. He was a great family man. He just loved life."
Longway also helped rescue two Tampa men who were contemplating suicide.
In 2007, he talked a man down from the overpass of Dale Mabry Highway at Busch Boulevard, and in 2008, he was one of three deputies who helped rescue a man threatening to jump from atop a building on Fletcher Avenue, records show.
In a letter, his supervisor commended him for his patience and negotiation in the 2007 rescue: "Deputy Longway did not hesitate to act even though he was at risk of being pulled over the railing."
In June 2007, the North Tampa Chamber of Commerce named Longway its Law Enforcement Officer of the Month, praising him for his work thwarting a burglary in progress at the Northdale Golf and Tennis Club.
"He was very enthusiastic," his co-worker Deputy Alan Katz said. "He loved his job."
Longway was enthusiastic off the job, too, friends said. He loved motorcycles and would ride a black Harley-Davidson with his wife, Laura Longway.
The couple have two adult daughters who live in Texas. Mark Longway's parents live in Tampa. Through sheriff's officials, the family declined to talk with reporters.
Several former neighbors in Odessa, where Longway once lived, said Tuesday they were devastated to hear of his death.
Barbara McMullen, who lived one house down, said Longway would often help his neighbors, jumping in whenever he saw them doing work.
"He was just more than willing to be a friend," she said.
Her husband, Dave, remembers him proudly showing off his uniform shortly after getting it.
"He was just beaming," Dave McMullen said.
"He was just so proud to be a Hillsborough County deputy."
Longway was born in Massachusetts and later served there at Hanscom Air Force Base. But he spent much of his childhood in Tampa, graduating in 1980 from Hillsborough High School.
In 10th grade, Longway joined the Tampa Police Explorer group and quickly rose to sergeant.
In his application, he wrote, "I plan to be a police officer when I graduate, and this would be a great opportunity to start."
Times news researcher John Martin and staff writer Andy Boyle contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3433.