TAMPA — Tow truck driver Rogelio Perez-Borroto was a hard worker who his boss says cared about the people he helped on the side of the road.
Early Monday, Perez-Borroto spotted a disabled vehicle on the shoulder of the northbound span of the Howard Frankland Bridge and pulled over, said Lou Moralez, owner of Lou's Total Car Care in Tampa. Moments later, Perez-Borroto, 43, was dead and the driver who hit him had sped away, the Florida Highway Patrol said.
"He wasn't even on a call," Moralez said. "He put the people in the cab of his truck so they were safe, and this is what happens to him."
Perez-Borroto was one of five fatalities and one critical injury reported on Tampa Bay roads in the span of 15 hours Monday. The hit-and-run on the Howard Frankland sparked an intense search for the driver who FHP troopers said fled the scene: Allison F. Huffman. She was detained in St. Petersburg late Monday night.
Huffman, 36, of Riverview has been arrested three times in Hillsborough on charges of driving under the influence — twice in 2002 and a third time in 2010, county records show.
A photo posted to her Facebook page in November shows her snapping a selfie while sitting in the driver's seat of a car. She wrote this caption: "Maybe this is why I've been accused of not concentrating on driving while driving … Haha."
The FHP said Huffman was driving north approaching the Kennedy Boulevard exit about 2:20 a.m. when the right front end of her black 2012 Volkswagen Passat struck Perez-Borroto.
Perez-Borroto's Dodge Ram flatbed tow truck was parked on the shoulder about 1½ feet inside the fog line, the solid white line on the side of a road designed to keep people from driving off the road when there's no curb or obvious edge.
FHP Sgt. Steve Gaskins said it was unclear whether Perez-Borroto was standing inside or outside the fog line when he was struck. The impact threw him into his tow truck, the FHP said, and he died at the scene. It wasn't known if alcohol was a factor.
The two people Perez-Borroto was helping gave FHP troopers a description of the car that hit him. Troopers said Huffman, of 10430 Boyette Creek Blvd., kept driving but didn't go far.
Minutes later, she was seen on surveillance video driving the Volkswagen into the parking lot of the Crowne Plaza Tampa Westshore hotel at 5303 W Kennedy Blvd., Gaskins said, just a few miles east of the crash scene. The FHP later released a photo of the black sedan taken outside the hotel that showed major damage to the front passenger side.
The FHP said Huffman then took a cab from the hotel using the name "Beth." Investigators tracked her cellphone signal 12 miles away near the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in east Tampa.
It was there, FHP said, that she appeared to turn her phone off.
Troopers did not release any other details about Huffman, including what charges she may face. St. Petersburg police said they got a tip around 9 p.m. that she was at a friend's home at the Promenade Apartments at 540 Carillon Parkway.
Officers cordoned off part of the apartment complex and around 11:30 p.m. put Huffman in the front passenger seat of an FHP cruiser — but without handcuffs. She was seen speaking to a trooper inside the car.
Perez-Borroto was a married father who worked for Lou's for about six months. He showed up early, stayed late and had a knack for calming irate customers.
"He was one of the kindest, most good-natured individuals I've ever known," Moralez said.
Monday's first traffic fatality took place shortly after midnight on U.S. 19 near Ridge Road in Pasco County. The FHP said Daniel Wayne Lero was riding a Honda motorcycle at a high rate of speed when he collided with the back of a semi-trailer. Lero, 24, of Port Richey died at the scene.
Then about 3:30 a.m. in Pinellas County, a 27-year-old Tennessee man was critically injured after he lost control of his Ford F-150 truck and collided with a median and traffic signal pole on Ulmerton Road near Carillon Parkway, troopers said.
Investigators believe the man, whose name was not released, may have been illegally racing on the street with another vehicle. He was taken to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office said Guy Royster, 50, was struck by a Chevrolet van as he tried to walk across Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, south of 138th Avenue, about 6:15 a.m. Royster didn't see the van coming in the outside lane and died at the scene. Driver Mynor Osorio-Salguero, 41, was not injured.
Also in Hillsborough, Anthony Leroy Brown, 47, of Riverview, was killed while riding his motorcycle about 6:28 a.m. when a vehicle made an improper U-turn and cut off the motorcyclist on U.S. 301 near Estates del Sol Drive, the FHP said.
In Plant City, the FHP said William Neal Major, 26, of Zephyrhills, died when he lost control of his motorcycle and drove into a retention pond at Paul Buchman Highway and Alexander Street about 3:11 p.m.
The bridge fatality took place on the first day of the state's "Hit and Run Awareness Week." It's designed to inform motorists that they must remain at the scene of a crash and raise awareness about Florida's "move over" law, which requires drivers to move over a lane or slow down 20 mph below the speed limit when driving by stopped emergency vehicles with flashing lights.
The "move over" law includes tow trucks.
Times senior news researcher John Martin and staff writers Hanna Marcus, Claire McNeil and Dan Sullivan contributed to this report. Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.