TAMPA — The three deputies say they could have been hurt much worse, maybe even killed, when two feuding drivers slammed into their parked cars at about 70 mph early Sunday.
It was about 3 a.m., and the Hillsborough deputies were directing traffic for an earlier crash on southbound U.S. 301, near Interstate 4.
Cpl. Duane Benton, 43, heard brakes screeching behind him and pushed Deputy Byron Beasley, 40, out of harm's way. Benton then leaped over a concrete barrier, landing hard on his back.
Deputy Breanne Corso, 28, saw it all happen from the rearview mirror as she sat in her patrol car.
One of the vehicles hit Benton's car, which then hit the back of Corso's. She quickly jumped out to check on the others.
Beasley, who had fallen to the ground, got up right away. He couldn't move his right arm, but adrenaline masked the pain. Benton slowly rose.
The deputies were more concerned about each other, and Corso radioed for help. The people from the earlier crash, who had been standing further south, also ran to help.
The only people not concerned were the two drivers who had crashed into the deputies' cars.
Juan Villareal, 20, and Martin Porras, 21, got out of their vehicles and immediately started arguing with each other, the deputies said.
"These guys had no concern for us," Beasley said. "When they got out of their cars, they were only concerned with their feud, their fight."
The two had started fighting at the nearby Club 301 earlier that night. Their argument continued as they drove south, turning into a case of road rage, Benton said.
The Sheriff's Office is investigating the possibility that the two drivers were intoxicated. Their blood was drawn at the hospital.
Each was charged with obstructing or opposing an officer without violence. Porras also was charged with cocaine possession.
On Monday, Beasley's hand was bandaged — nothing more than road burn, he said. Benton said a small fracture in his lower back will heal on its own.
Beasley, who has two young children, said he probably owes Benton his life, or at least his career. If Benton hadn't propelled him to safety, one of the cars would have probably slammed into him.
"I would have been mangled," he said.
The fact that they made it out with only minor injuries amazes them. Benton calls it "the miracle on 301."
"When you're facing 10,000 pounds of metal … you can only rely on your instincts," he said. "It also helps to be lucky."
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or [email protected]