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Tampa dog park to honor deputy who died acting as 'human shield'

Hillsborough County sheriff's Deputy John Kotfila Jr. was devoted to his German shepherd Dexter, and local officials plan to honor Kotfila by creating and naming a new dog park in his memory. Kotfila, 30, died on March 12 when he drove his cruiser into the path of a wrong-way driver to shield another motorist from being struck. Kotfila's love for animals was featured on the program for his funeral at St. Timothy Catholic Church in Lutz. CHRIS URSO | Times
Published Nov. 3, 2016

TAMPA — John Kotfila Jr. loved his German shepherd Dexter, but when dog owners visit the park named in his honor, they'll be reminded of an even more profound devotion.

The City Council on Thursday approved a plan to create a new dog park honoring Kotfila, the Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy killed this year after he drove his cruiser into the path of a speeding wrong-way driver to save another motorist.

"It's a fitting way to pay homage to a guy who lost his life protecting somebody else's," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said. "That's the least we can do for him, his family and his memory."

The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority plans to build the park on land it owns under the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway. That's the elevated road where Kotfila, 30, was mortally injured in a March 12 crash with Erik Thomas McBeth of Hudson, who also died.

The driver Kotfila saved has said he "was trying to be a human shield."

"I feel certain in my heart that he knew exactly what was about to happen to me," Sarah Geren said after the crash, "and that he sacrificed himself instead."

Given Kotfila's love for his dog, officials said, expressway authority executive Joseph Waggoner thought it made sense to name the park for him.

It could open in late February or early March between N Raymond and N 12th streets at the northern end of the Channel District. The city will contribute $15,000 a year to maintain it.

Council wants city to help drywall victims

Council members scheduled a Nov. 10 discussion on ways the council can work with Hillsborough County to provide relief to families whose government-subsidized homes are blighted with toxic Chinese drywall.

Hillsborough commissioners this week discussed working with the city and Tampa Housing Authority to use affordable housing funds to rehab the homes of four Belmont Heights families whose drywall has emitted hazardous fumes for nine years.

"It's sad, what's going on with these families," council member Frank Reddick said.

Council member Mike Suarez requested that the city and housing authority report on who is responsible for construction defects on the houses, what insurance the contractors or subcontractors had and whether it would be possible to try to claw back money from the contractors or drywall supplier.

Hearing on planning for medical marijuana

The council also gave its initial approval to an ordinance putting a 180-day hold on proposals to establish medical marijuana dispensaries or similar facilities inside city limits.

The idea of the hold, similar to a moratorium enacted by Hillsborough County, would be to give the city time to set rules for dispensaries if Florida voters allow the use of medical marijuana by approving Amendment 2 on Nov. 8.

"Thank you for taking the initiative of protecting our children and our community," anti-marijuana activist Teresa Miller said. She compared dispensaries to pill mills that attracted patients from out of state before being forced out of business. "These are not the type of tourists or businesses that we want to attract."

A final hearing is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Nov. 17.

Council says farewell to Lisa Montelione

Thursday was the last meeting for two-term council member Lisa Montelione, who is leaving her northern Tampa seat early to run for the Florida House of Representatives in District 63.

"You have been a tenacious, passionate and effective council woman for your district, and I think the city's a better place for your service," council member Harry Cohen told her. "Thank you very much. We're going to miss you."

"It's very emotional," Montelione said. "I've learned so much from all of you. Sometimes we agree. Sometimes we don't agree. But I believe we all have the community and our citizens ... at the heart of everything that we do."

Contact Richard Danielson at rdanielson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3403. Follow @Danielson_Times

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