Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Police, fire heroes honored for excellence

Hillsborough County Volunteer Firefighter of the Year John Fragomeni is congratulated by Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Chief Ron Rogers at Wednesday’s luncheon.


Hillsborough County Volunteer Firefighter of the Year John Fragomeni is congratulated by Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Chief Ron Rogers at Wednesday’s luncheon.

TAMPA — Last June 14, Hills­borough Reserve Firefighter John Fragomeni was driving on Interstate 75 to repair an irrigation system in Apollo Beach. He was already running late when a flatbed truck he was trailing began to spew smoke, then suddenly disappeared from view.

Fragomeni, who was off duty, says he came to a stop exactly where he lost sight of the truck and realized it must have plunged off the bridge that crossed the Alafia River dozens of feet below.

"My first thought was that he wasn't alive," Fragomeni said of the truck driver.

But then he and Hillsborough sheriff's Deputy Philip Merkle, who had also stopped, saw the driver moving inside the cab, which had come to rest in mud. They slid down the embankment, forded through the marsh and hailed a boater who had heard the crash.

They extricated the driver from the cab, and the boat carried the driver to an ambulance waiting onshore.

Fragomeni said he and Merkle had not heard from the driver since then. They knew he had survived, but nothing more.

But when he and Merkle were honored Wednesday as the Hills­borough Country Volunteer Firefighter and Law Enforcement Deputy of the Year, they got a message from the driver, Jeffery Cook, who thanked them for saving his life and giving him more time to spend with his family.

"I had never witnessed an accident like that," Fragomeni said. "I thank God every day that I was there and he was okay."

Fragomeni and Merkle were among the 17 Hillsborough first responders recognized at the luncheon, held at the Tampa Convention Center. The paramedics, firefighters and law enforcement officers honored during the 20th anniversary of the event were hailed for actions ranging from delivering a baby on the side of the highway to raising $40,000 for the Special Olympics.

Noting a Tuesday night drug raid in Seminole Heights that resulted in the fatal shooting of a suspected marijuana dealer, Mayor Bob Buckhorn reminded the audience that "there's no such thing as a routine search warrant" or a "routine traffic stop."

Fragomeni, however, has not been dissuaded. After seven years as a volunteer firefighter, he still hopes to pursue a full-time job with Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.

Victoria Jacobsen can be reached at or (813) 661-2442.

Heroic honorees

Here are the other 15 people recognized at the "Our Heroes'' luncheon:

Cpl. Manuel Lowe, Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office

Florida Highway Patrol Trooper of the Year: Trooper Dennis Rich

Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Firefighter of the Year: Firefighter Derrick Bell

Hillsborough County Fire Rescue Paramedic of the Year: Paramedic John Rankin

Hillsborough County Detention Deputy of the Year: Master Deputy Dawn Gilbert

Hillsborough County Reserve Deputy of the Year: Deputy Leon Pantella

Plant City Fire Rescue Firefighter of the Year: Fire Medic Dustin Hill

Plant City Police Department Officer of the Year: Detective Robert McLellan

Tampa Fire Rescue Firefighter of the Year: Capt. Karl Wolf

Tampa International Airport Police Department Officer of the Year: Cpl. Monique Barry

Tampa Police Department Officer of the Year: MPO Veronica Hamilton

Tampa Police Department Reserve Officer of the Year: Reserve Officer Larry Timmer

Temple Terrace Fire Department Firefighter of the Year: Firefighter/Paramedic Thomas Loughlin

Temple Terrace Police Department Officer of the Year: Officer Adam Lebovitz

University of South Florida Police Dept. Officer of the Year: Officer David Pluskota

Police, fire heroes honored for excellence 05/28/14 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 28, 2014 10:41pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trump reveals that he didn't record Comey after all


    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump declared Thursday he never made and doesn't have recordings of his private conversations with ousted former FBI director James Comey, ending a monthlong guessing game that he started with a cryptic tweet and that ensnared his administration in yet more controversy.

    President Donald Trump said Thursday that he didn’t record his conversations with James Comey.
  2. Lightning fans, don't get attached to your first-round draft picks

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — When Lightning GM Steve Yzerman announces his first-round pick Friday night in the amateur draft at No. 14, he'll invite the prospect onto the stage for the once-in-a-lifetime photo opportunity.

    Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Jonathan Drouin (27) eludes  Montreal Canadiens left wing Phillip Danault (24) during the second period of Wednesday???‚??„?s (12/28/16) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Montreal Canadiens at the Amalie Arena in Tampa.
  3. Investigation Discovery TV show profiles 2011 Landy Martinez murder case


    The murder of a St. Petersburg man will be featured this week on a new true crime series Murder Calls on Investigation Discovery.

    Jose Adame sits in a Pinellas County courtroom during his 2016 trial and conviction for first-degree murder. Adame was convicted of first-degree murder last year for torturing and then executing his boyfriend as he pleaded for his life in 2011. Now it will be featured in a new true crime series Murder Calls on Investigation Discovery. The episode will air on June 26 at 9 p.m. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
  4. Uhuru mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel protests exclusion from debate


    ST. PETERSBURG — Jesse Nevel, the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement candidate for mayor, on Thursday demanded that he be allowed to participate in a July 25 televised debate between incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman and challenger Rick Baker.

    Mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel holds a news conference outside the headquarters of the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday to protest his exclusion from the mayoral debate. Nevel is a member of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement.
  5. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman also has top-9 wing on his wish list

    Lightning Strikes

    CHICAGO — Much has been made about the Lightning's interest in bolstering its blue line, even after last week's acquisition of defense prospect Mikhail Sergachev.

    Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman gestures as he speaks to the media about recent trades during a news conference before an NHL hockey game against the Carolina Hurricanes Wednesday, March 1, 2017, in Tampa, Fla. The Lightning, over the past few days, have traded goaltender Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings, forward Brian Boyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and forward Valtteri Filppula to the Philadelphia Flyers. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) TPA101