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Tampa officer may have veered into wrong-way driver to save others

Officer Jesse Madsen, a 45-year-old husband and father of three, died in the crash early Tuesday on I-275. So did the man who hit him.
Officer Jesse Madsen, 45, was riding in his marked police SUV when he was struck and killed about 1 a.m. Tuesday in a head-on collision with another car on Interstate 275 near Sligh Avenue.
Officer Jesse Madsen, 45, was riding in his marked police SUV when he was struck and killed about 1 a.m. Tuesday in a head-on collision with another car on Interstate 275 near Sligh Avenue. [ Spectrum Bay News 9 ]
Published Mar. 9
Updated Mar. 10

TAMPA — Tampa Master Patrol Officer Jesse Madsen had a history of saving people from dangerous situations while on the job.

During his 16-year tenure at the Tampa Police Department, the 45-year-old husband and father of three earned the department’s Life-Saving Award seven times.

His last act in the line of duty may be worthy of an eighth.

Madsen was heading north on Interstate 275 early Tuesday when a wrong-way driver slammed into his marked SUV. Madsen and the other driver were killed on impact.

Related: More wrong-way sensors coming to I-275. Did one linked to fatal crash work?

“We have reason to believe that he veered into this oncoming car to protect others,” Police Chief Brian Dugan said at a news conference at the department’s downtown headquarters Tuesday morning. “That is what we have gathered from some of our witnesses.”

Related: Tampa officer killed in wrong-way crash was ‘wired’ to save lives

The crash and its aftermath felt all too familiar to Tampa Bay’s law enforcement community. Madsen is the third law enforcement officer to die in the line of duty in the area in as many months — all in traffic crashes.

As in the two previous incidents, authorities say, Madsen’s death was the result of another driver’s actions.

Tampa police Master Patrol Officer Jesse Madsen, 45, was killed Tuesday when a wrong-way driver collided with his patrol SUV on Interstate 275 in Tampa, police said.
Tampa police Master Patrol Officer Jesse Madsen, 45, was killed Tuesday when a wrong-way driver collided with his patrol SUV on Interstate 275 in Tampa, police said. [ Tampa Police Department ]

Police began to receive 911 calls shortly before 1 a.m. Tuesday about a white sedan traveling south at a high rate of speed and swerving through northbound lanes of the interstate between the Hillsborough Avenue and Sligh Avenue exits. About a minute after the first call, another came in reporting that the car had collided with a marked patrol vehicle.

Police identified the wrong-way driver as 25-year-old Joshua Montague of Golden, Colo. Montague was driving a rental car at the time of the crash, Dugan said.

Detectives were trying to determine where Montague got onto the interstate and why he was driving in the wrong direction.

”We believe he got on at Busch Boulevard but we’re still working through some of that,” Dugan said.

Police have not said if investigators suspect impairment was a factor in the crash.

Related: Tampa Bay has a history of deadly wrong-way crashes

Dugan said Madsen happened to be driving in that area when the calls first came in, but witness accounts indicate he may have deliberately steered his SUV into the car’s path.

After the crash, officers saluted as a procession of patrol cars, their emergency lights flashing, escorted an ambulance carrying Madsen’s body to the Medical Examiner’s Office.

I-275 was closed in both directions between the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Sligh Avenue exits until about 8:30 a.m. while investigators worked at the scene.

“This is a tragedy,” Dugan said, his voice breaking with emotion, during his first of two news conferences Tuesday, this one near the scene of the crash. “Our community has been rocked by these wrong-way drivers. It’s just a complete tragedy that a husband and a father is now gone.”

Madsen was a U.S. Marine combat veteran when he took his first law enforcement job as a police officer in Lyndhorst, Ohio, according to information provided by Tampa police. He went on to work for a couple of years in Shaker Heights, Ohio, then joined the Tampa department.

Dugan called Madsen “highly decorated,” having won the department’s Life-Saving Award seven times.

“When you look at someone who has earned seven life-saving awards, it’s no surprise he would take such swift action and do this,” Dugan said at the second news conference, held in front of the department’s Fallen Officers Memorial.

Madsen and his wife Danyelle have two sons, ages 12 and 16, and a 10-year-old daughter.

Tampa police Master Patrol Officer Jesse Madsen with his wife Danyelle are pictured in this family photo.
Tampa police Master Patrol Officer Jesse Madsen with his wife Danyelle are pictured in this family photo. [ Courtesy Tampa Police Benevolent Association ]

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said Tuesday marked “a very difficult day for our entire community and specifically for the members of the Tampa Police Department.”

“If he took steps to try to save others by laying down his life, that really is a true testament to the kind of individual that Jesse Madsen was,” Castor said at the news conference outside the police department.

Castor said she visited with Madsen’s wife Danyelle and the couple’s sons Tuesday.

Tampa police Master Patrol Officer Jesse Madsen with his daughter Kenley, now 10, are pictured in this family photo.
Tampa police Master Patrol Officer Jesse Madsen with his daughter Kenley, now 10, are pictured in this family photo. [ Courtesy Tampa Police Benevolent Association ]

“They clearly are devastated,” the mayor said. “They’re very, very thankful for the thoughts and prayers of the entire community. They’re not sure of the next steps to take but we’re a very tight-knit family and we’re going to do everything we can to make this most difficult time as easy as it can be for them.”

The city will light up City Hall and city bridges in blue in honor of Madsen, Castor said. Dugan said the department will enter a seven-day period of mourning. Madsen’s badge number, 507, will be retired and etched into the Fallen Officers Memorial.

Tampa police Officer Jesse Madsen. left, and Sgt. Lisa Boeving share a laugh on the street after responding to a call in downtown Tampa in 2006. Madsen, 45, was killed early Tuesday when a wrong-way driver crashed into his patrol SUV on Interstate 275, police said.
Tampa police Officer Jesse Madsen. left, and Sgt. Lisa Boeving share a laugh on the street after responding to a call in downtown Tampa in 2006. Madsen, 45, was killed early Tuesday when a wrong-way driver crashed into his patrol SUV on Interstate 275, police said. [ Times (2006) ]

Madsen was “an incredible police officer and an amazing father,” Danny Alvarez, a spokesman for the Tampa Police Benevolent Association, said in a statement.

“The greatest honor we could bestow on Jesse is to remember him as he lived, and ultimately how he died — as a real-life American hero who put duty and honor above literally everything he did,” Alvarez said. “There are seven families today, and now an eighth, who were directly impacted by Jesse’s actions and selflessness.”

If Madsen placed himself in the path of the wrong-way car, his actions were similar to those attributed to Hillsborough Sheriff’s Deputy John Kotfila Jr., who died in a March 2016 wrong-way collision with a drunk driver. Kotfila acted as a “human shield,” a witness said, pulling in front of her car to take the impact of the crash along the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway in Brandon.

Related: 911 caller: Hillsborough deputy killed in wrong-way crash saved my life

The Sheriff’s Office was mourning the loss of one of its own again on Jan. 11 of this year, when a suspect fleeing from deputies in Brandon intentionally crashed a sedan into Cpl. Brian LaVigne’s marked patrol car, authorities said. LaVigne, 54, had one shift left before retiring and was posthumously promoted to sergeant. The suspect, 28-year-old Travis Zachary Garrett, has been indicted on a first-degree murder charge in LaVigne’s death.

Then, on Feb. 17, a drunken driver slammed into 30-year-old Pinellas County sheriff’s Deputy Michael Magli as he tried to deploy tire-deflating sticks to stop the driver on East Lake Road, authorities said. The driver, 33-year-old Robert Allen Holzaepfel, faces charges including first-degree felony murder. Magli was the first deputy to die in the line of duty in the 109-year history of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.

A flag at the Tampa Police Department's downtown headquarters flies at half staff Tuesday to mark the death of Master Patrol Officer Jesse Madsen.
A flag at the Tampa Police Department's downtown headquarters flies at half staff Tuesday to mark the death of Master Patrol Officer Jesse Madsen. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]

Madsen’s name will be the 32nd etched on the Tampa department’s officer memorial. It will be the first since 2010, when officers David Curtis and Jeffrey Kocab were fatally shot during a traffic stop.

“We have a service here every year,” said Castor, who was police chief in 2010, as she stood in front of the memorial, “and a couple of phrases you hear over and over are ‘lost but never forgotten,’ and also a plea that the last name etched on this memorial will be the last for eternity. Unfortunately, that’s not the nature of law enforcement.”

How to help

Here are some options for anyone wishing to donate help the family of Master Police Officer Jesse Madsen:

  • Submit donations in Madsen’s name at Bank of Tampa branches or mail checks or money orders to RISE Tampa, ico Madsen, P.O. Box 172816, Tampa, FL 33672. Donate online at risetampa.org/officermadsen
  • Mail cash or checks payable to the Tampa PBA to 1302 W Busch Blvd., Tampa, FL 33612, or donate online at tampapba.org/product/donation. Note donations are for the “Officer Madsen Fund.”