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Mayor's bodyguard killed in hit-run accident

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio's bodyguard and personal driver died Saturday afternoon from injuries suffered in a hit-and-run accident in Gibsonton. Iorio was not involved in the crash.

Tampa police Detective Juan Serrano exited Interstate 75 at Gibsonton Drive about 12:45 p.m. when a Pontiac Grand Prix ran a red light and struck Serrano's city-issued Ford Taurus. He was airlifted to Tampa General Hospital, where he died, said police spokesman Joe Durkin.

Serrano, 49, had been with Iorio Saturday at the Gasparilla Distance Classic race through the city. After the race, he dropped her off at home. Serrano was headed for his home when his car was broadsided.

"How quickly life can change," Iorio said in an official statement. "This morning, Juan was with me at the Gasparilla Distance Classic. It was a beautiful day and we had so much fun. When we parted, we were laughing and said "See you Monday.' "

After the crash, two men got out of the Pontiac and ran from the scene, said the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

Authorities said the owner of the Pontiac, Jose Luis Espinoza, 35, of 6129 Palm Ave., No. 11 in Gibsonton, was the driver.

Sheriff's spokesman J.D. Callaway said a police dog found Espinoza hiding behind a dock near the crash scene.

The second person in the car had not been found late Saturday.

Espinoza was taken to Tampa General Hospital with cuts and scrapes. He was charged with leaving the scene of an accident involving death and not having a valid driver's license. Callaway said Espinoza would be taken to jail on an immigration detainer after being released from the hospital. There was no record of Espinoza in Florida Department of Law Enforcement criminal records.

Callaway said it is not clear if Espinoza is an illegal immigrant.

Serrano was married with three adult children. He had been with the Tampa Police Department for 17 years and was Iorio's personal driver and bodyguard since she took office in 2003.

"It's just so sad," said Serrano's friend and Tampa City Council member Kevin White. "He always had such a loving and kind personality, always had a cheerful smile and always had a warm greeting for everyone he met."

Serrano was a detective with the department's Criminal Intelligence Bureau, a unit that investigates offenses such as extortion and organized crime.

He was also Iorio's go-to security officer for special events.

"Hard working, dedicated, honest, straightforward, uncomplaining and loyal," are the words Iorio used to describe Serrano. "I know this about Juan because we were together almost every day. Over the past three years, we became friends."

Funeral arrangements are pending.

Staff writer Janet Zink contributed to this report.

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