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Police: Driver who hit detective drunk

Investigators say Jose Luis Espinosa was impaired by alcohol and likely speeding when he ran a red light at lunchtime Saturday and slammed into Detective Juan Serrano's city-issued Ford Taurus, killing the veteran police officer.

Espinosa had a blood alcohol level of 0.163 when he crashed into Serrano, bodyguard to Mayor Pam Iorio, the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office reported.

That's twice the limit at which Florida law presumes a driver impaired.

Hillsborough sheriff's spokesman J.D. Callaway said Espinosa, a native of Mexico living in Gibsonton, showed signs of intoxication when investigators arrested him Saturday. They took a blood sample at the scene to be sure.

After getting test results Tuesday, authorities charged Espinosa, 35, with DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide. Jailed since Saturday, he was already charged with leaving the scene of a deadly crash and driving without a valid license in a crash involving serious injury.

Investigators say Espinosa was driving a 1996 Pontiac Grand Prix west on Gibsonton Drive when he ran a red light at 12:45 p.m. Saturday, just as Serrano exited Interstate 75 onto Gibsonton Drive.

The Pontiac hit Serrano's unmarked 2001 Taurus on the driver's side. Espinosa and his passenger got out of the Pontiac and ran off, Callaway said. A police dog quickly found Espinosa hiding near the crash scene.

Deputies found passenger Marco Antonio Rosas-Galves, 26. He is being treated as a witness and has not been charged.

Callaway said detectives have not finished reconstructing the crash, so they do not yet have an estimate of how fast Espinosa was driving. "But we believe speed was a factor," he said.

Serrano was airlifted to Tampa General Hospital but could not be saved. He was 49, married and stepfather to three.

Dr. Les Chrostowski, associate Hillsborough County medical examiner, said the crash caused lacerations to major blood vessels and organs, including Serrano's kidney and spleen. He also had a closed head injury, Chrostowski said Tuesday.

Serrano, Iorio's bodyguard since she took office three years ago, had been with the mayor at the Bank of America Gasparilla Distance Classic Saturday morning.

Tampa's mayoral bodyguard dates back to Mayor Sandy Freedman, who was mayor from 1986 to 1995. She set up security measures including a rotation of plainclothes officers charged with protecting her.

Eventually, a full-time officer was assigned to be Freedman's "executive protection officer." It has been in place since.

Serrano was akin to a Secret Service officer for Iorio, reviewing security at venues where she appeared and doing background checks of people she might meet.

Saturday morning, Serrano used a 2003 Lincoln Town Car to get Iorio to and from the Gasparilla race. Then he headed home in his city-issued Taurus. Like all Ford Taurus patrol cars now in use, it does not have side impact air bags, police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said.

McElroy said side air bags were not offered in the Taurus models used by officers. They are offered in the 2005 models, but the department has not purchased any of those, she said.

As detectives continued to investigate the crash, seeking witnesses and reconstructing the collision, city officials and relatives planned funeral services.

A public funeral mass will be held at 9 a.m. Thursday at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 509 N Florida Ave. in Tampa.

Serrano's family plans a private ceremony at Boza & Roel Funeral Home in the afternoon. They expect to return his ashes to his native Puerto Rico.

The family requests that any donations be sent in his honor to the National Law Enforcement Officer's Memorial Fund, www.nleomf.com.

Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at svansickler@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3373.

FUNERAL PLANS

+ The funeral for Tampa police Detective Juan Serrano will be from 9 to 11:30 a.m. Thursday, at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 509 Florida Ave., in downtown Tampa.

+ After the funeral Mass, a police ceremony will take place in front of the church, including a 21-gun salute, taps, and a flyover by the Tampa Police Aviation unit.

+ Police will temporarily close some downtown streets for the funeral. Beginning at 6 a.m., northbound traffic on Florida Avenue will be closed from Channelside Drive to Zack Street. Also, east-west traffic on Madison, Twiggs and Zack streets will be blocked from Franklin Street to Marion Street.

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