TAMPA — Those who knew him say it was easy to believe Officer Jesse Madsen was invincible.
He seems to have been born fearless, his fellow officers said, as if he was “wired” to save lives. He heard the call to “serve and protect” by the time he was just 8. He put his life on the line day after day — as a U.S. Marine, as a young police officer in Tampa and his Ohio hometown, and later as an Army reservist on a one-year deployment to Afghanistan.
“But what’s crazy about this whole situation is that, despite all these situations he’s put himself in over all these years, being deployed and then going to Afghanistan and everything else, this whole time we’ve been worried that he was putting himself in dangerous spots,” Tampa Detective Rachel Cholnik said.
“And this was what killed him. He was right here at home, just driving down the interstate.”
Even in his final moments, Madsen risked it all to protect the lives of others, witnesses told police. When he saw a wrong-way driver weaving in and out of the northbound lanes of Interstate 275 early Tuesday, Madsen intentionally veered his patrol car into the vehicle’s path to shield others from a collision, according to police.
Both Madsen and the driver, 25-year-old Joshua Montague of Golden, Colo., were killed. Acquaintances in Denver that Montague, who worked as a mover and had a 3-year-old daughter, had moved to Tampa the day before.
Sgt. Eddy Croissant, who oversaw Madsen’s patrol squad in the Sulphur Springs area, said Madsen “was the definition of a hero. You knew he had your back, he trusted that you had his, and if a hot call came in, he would just go. No hesitating.”
During his 16 years with the Tampa Police Department, Master Patrol Officer Madsen received seven of the department’s Life Saving awards.
In 2012, Madsen was working an extra duty assignment at the club Hollywood Nites when a robbery suspect shot a man inside a vehicle, according to an award nomination. Madsen pulled the injured man from the vehicle, laid him on the ground to help him breathe easier and applied clotting gauze to the wound to stanch the bleeding.
“There is no doubt that Officer Madsen’s fast and accurate assessment of the victim’s condition, coupled with the rapid implementation of proper first aid saved (the man’s) life,” Maj. Paul Driscoll wrote in the nomination letter.
The victim later identified the suspect and an arrest was made. Madsen had just returned from a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan with the Marines and his combat training likely helped him save the man’s life, Driscoll wrote.
Madsen earned the award again five years later in 2017 after he and other officers responded to a domestic disturbance call at an apartment complex on Interbay Drive. Madsen was among the officers who arrived to find a man, distraught and yelling, holding a knife to a woman’s throat, according to a summary of the incident written by Maj.Eli Vazquez.
“Officer Madsen was able to establish a rapport with the male subject, gained his trust and talked him into putting the knife down,” Vazquez wrote. “Through continued conversation, he was able to talk the suspect into releasing the female.”
But then the man put the knife to his own throat, Vazquez wrote. Madsen continued to talk to the man and persuaded him to put down the knife so he could be handcuffed.
Madsen had a gift for connecting with others, his coworkers said. You never knew what music might be playing in his squad car — rap, oldies, hardcore metal one minute, country the next. He was married to University of South Florida Police Officer Danyelle Goodrick Madsen and loved hanging out with her and their three children — a 10-year-old daughter and two boys ages 12 and 16.
He enjoyed fishing, going shooting with friends, lions, banana splits, sunny days, purple crayons and making people laugh when they would least expect it. When Madsen married in 2006, his brother shocked the officiant by handcuffing the newlyweds together as they exchanged vows — just right for their walk down the aisle to the theme song from Cops.
“He had a sneaky sense of humor,” Croissant said. “He would tell you these long stories, have you listening for 10 or 15 minutes, and then all of a sudden he would drop this zinger of a punch line and you’d realize the whole thing was a joke.”
“I’m gonna miss that.”