Man killed by deputies after Seffner manhunt was in long mental health crisis, victim says

Nicholas Kocolis kidnapped his ex-girlfriend and shot her boss, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. He was killed after firing on deputies.
Nicholas Kocolis, 51, left, is accused of trying to kidnap and shoot his ex-girlfriend on Thursday in Seffner. He was killed Friday after exchanging gunfire with deputies at a Burger King in Dover, right, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
Nicholas Kocolis, 51, left, is accused of trying to kidnap and shoot his ex-girlfriend on Thursday in Seffner. He was killed Friday after exchanging gunfire with deputies at a Burger King in Dover, right, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. [ Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office ]
Published Aug. 7, 2020|Updated Aug. 7, 2020

SEFFNER — By the end of last summer, Nicholas Kocolis was scaring his girlfriend and coworkers.

His then-girlfriend, Rachel Madison, said Kocolis had never been violent or abusive, even after serving 16 years in prison for trafficking cocaine, burglary and illegally possessing a firearm as a felon.

He’d turned his life around, she said. He made good money at a Tampa debt relief firm. He bought a home and car. He went to church and acted as a father to her young daughter.

But last year she said Kocolis behavior changed dramatically, and he became increasingly "aggressive and angry" with colleagues, court records show. He threatened to "shoot this place up," and his coworkers believed him.

That led to his arrest in September and their break-up. The situation escalated Thursday when deputies say he ambushed Madison, shooting her boss and kidnapping her.

She escaped and Kocolis fled, sparking a 6-hour manhunt that ended early Friday when deputies shot and killed the 51-year-old Kocolis in an exchange of gunfire in the parking lot of a Burger King in Dover, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

Madison blamed law enforcement for his death, she said. She said she called the police several times in an effort to get him mental health aid, but they never helped.

“He almost killed me,” Madison told the Tampa Bay Times on Friday, after he was killed. “But I promise you, this was not him. Something snapped.”

Related: Hillsborough deputies fatally shoot man wanted in Seffner shooting attack

After Madison left Kocolis, she said, he seemed to be in the midst of a constant mental health crisis. He called her hundreds of times. He parked in the road in front of her home, yelling her name. She said police said they couldn’t do anything, because he was on public property.

In September, Kocolis’ coworkers heard him say he was going to shoot up the office and kill everyone if he ever got fired, according to an arrest report. He also threatened to slash the throats of specific coworkers and decapitate them.

He was arrested on a charge of making a false report concerning use of firearms in a violent manner. Records show prosecutors dropped the charge in January; Madison said that was because of Kocolis’ mental state.

Then on Thursday, Kocolis was waiting for Madison at her home when she arrived at about 5:30 p.m., Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister said. She was riding in the passenger seat of her boss’s pickup to help her save on gas.

Kocolis got out of his car, the sheriff said, walked up to the truck and started shooting, striking the drive. The driver got out and tried to run away, but Kocolis shot him a second time. He was taken to a local hospital with injuries that Chronister said were not life-threatening.

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Kocolis then pushed Madison into the driver’s seat of the truck, got into the passenger seat and ordered her to drive at gunpoint. She said he wanted her to take them to his parked Nissan Altima, then take her somewhere else.

Instead, she drove into a pond-like ditch on her property and jumped from the truck into the “black, dirty, disgusting water,” she said. Kocolis got out and started firing into the water.

A woman who saw the crashed truck stopped her car to help. She told Madison to get in the car. As they tried to drive away, Kocolis shot at the car, striking it four times, Chronister said.

Related: Hillsborough deputies search for man after shooting attack in Seffner

The good Samaritan crashed her car a short distance later on Williams Road, just north of U.S. 92, according to the Sheriff’s Office. Kocolis drove off in his Nissan.

While deputies searched for Kocolis that night, Madison said he called her. He said he loved her and that he wanted to see her one last time. He also said he would rather die than be taken into custody. Deputies listened in on their conversation.

They tracked Kocolis to a Burger King at 12902 Newsome Road in nearby Dover. Three deputies approached his car. When he got out and started shooting, Chronister said all three returned fire. Kocolis died at the scene.

“He got out of the car and immediately opened fire on deputies as they were moving in to apprehend him, " Chronister said. “No time for dialogue.”

The Sheriff’s Office did not say how many gunshots were fired, how many times deputies fired or how many times Kocolis was hit.

The Sheriff’s Office did not release the names of the victims in this case due to it’s interpretation of Marsy’s Law, a state constitutional amendment that’s meant to protect crime victims but deprives the public of information that had long been made available under Florida’s public records law. Madison agreed to speak to the Times.

The Sheriff’s Office said the deputies who fired their weapons were Sgt. Jason Roberts, who has been employed with the office since 2003; Deputy Michael Vegeto, who started in 2013; and Deputy Derrick Shea, who started in 2008.

None of them have been involved in any previous incidents involving the deadly use of force incident, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement will investigate the shooting according to a new agreement Chronister approved to increase transparency.

Friday afternoon, Madison was still shattered by Kocolis’ death. She hates seeing his 2019 mugshot in the media, which is what the Sheriff’s Office circulated when it was searching for him. That isn’t how she remembers him. To her, Kocolis was a good person who needed help.

“This was not him,” she said. “This was not him at all. People loved Nick. This wasn’t him.”

Times staff writer Tony Marrero contributed to this report.