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Sheriff: Driver in wrong-way crash that killed Hillsborough deputy was drunk

Officials report that tests show Erik Thomas McBeth’s blood-alcohol level was 0.27 when he slammed into Deputy John Kotfila Jr. on March 12 on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.
Officials report that tests show Erik Thomas McBeth’s blood-alcohol level was 0.27 when he slammed into Deputy John Kotfila Jr. on March 12 on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway.
Published Mar. 22, 2016

BRANDON — The wrong-way driver on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway who caused the March 12 crash that killed a Hillsborough sheriff's deputy was drunk when the collision took place, the Sheriff's Office said Monday.

Toxicology tests showed that Erik Thomas McBeth had a blood-alcohol level of 0.27 when he died early March 12, officials said. That is more than three times the level of 0.08 at which the state presumes a driver is impaired.

McBeth, 31, of Hudson was heading west in the reversible eastbound lanes of the expressway early that morning in a GMC Terrain when the Sheriff's Office said he slammed into Hillsborough sheriff's Deputy John Kotfila Jr.'s patrol cruiser just west of Interstate 75.

McBeth was declared dead at the scene. Firefighters pulled Kotfila, 30, from his agency-issued Dodge Charger and rushed him to Tampa General Hospital. He was later pronounced dead there.

Sarah Geren, who was driving on the expressway and saw the fiery crash, said the deputy swerved in front of her — acting as a "human shield" — just before she said McBeth would have slammed head-on into her.

The investigation into the crash remains ongoing.

Detectives are still trying to determine where McBeth was before he drove onto the expressway. Deputies have said that they think he might have driven up the Brandon Express exit ramp, where the expressway ends at Town Center Boulevard. The express lanes are reversible, with several iron gates blocking the north side of the intersection at night. Cars heading east leave the expressway on the south side. A metal sign warning "Do Not Enter" and a pair of flashing yellow lights hang over that side near where the road ends.

The results showing McBeth was impaired are in keeping with trends in what has been a series of high-profile wrong-way crashes on major highways in the Tampa Bay area.

In 2014, drivers in five fatal wrong-way crashes on Interstates 275 and 75 were all found to have been impaired. That year, a Tampa Bay Times analysis of wrong-way driving found that drivers were likewise impaired in almost all cases that resulted in a crash.

About 2,000 people attended Friday's service for Kotfila at St. Timothy Catholic Church in Lutz.

The deputy grew up in Massachusetts, and the state police there sent about 20 officers to the funeral. His father, John Kotfila Sr., is a sergeant with the agency. The deputy's brother, Michael Kotfila, is an officer with the Falmouth, Mass., Police Department.

A second funeral Mass is scheduled for Wednesday in Massachusetts. Burial will follow at a cemetery near the Kotfila family home.

Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

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