TAMPA, Fla. – A police officer intentionally veered his SUV into the path of a wrong-way driver to keep him from hitting others on Interstate 275 in Tampa, police and eyewitness accounts say.
Master Patrol Officer Jesse Madsen, 45, and Daniel Joshua Montague, 25, of Golden, Colorado, were killed in the crash early Tuesday morning, Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan said during a Thursday news conference.
Montague was driving more than 100 mph (160 kph) and likely intoxicated, Dugan said. Madsen, who was on patrol, was traveling at about 65 mph (104 kph) when the crash occurred.
“Officer Madsen is a true American hero,” Dugan said. “He deliberately moved his patrol car into the other driver’s path of travel. We believe Jesse Madsen was attempting to stop this wrong-way driver from putting anyone else’s life in danger by laying down his own.”
Investigators believe Montague got onto the interstate at Busch Boulevard and was weaving in and out of lanes as he headed south in the northbound lanes. Toxicology reports are pending but the chief said initial findings show he was intoxicated.
“There was beer bottles found at his hotel room and we have reason to believe he was at a local bar and was out drinking somewhere,” Dugan said.
Montague was moving to Tampa and had been in the city for less than 12 hours, Dugan said. Investigators found his bags had not been unpacked in his hotel room.
“This whole incident could have been avoided,” the chief said.
Sandra Bundy, who was Montague's partner of six years, told the Tampa Bay Times, Montague had moved to Tampa to work for a moving company. His goal was to bring Bundy, their 3-year-old daughter, and her son from a previous relationship, to Tampa.
“Everything about what happened was terrible,” Bundy said through tears. “People are talking about (Madsen) and they should, but Josh was a father, too. An amazing one.”
Madsen was married with three children. Dugan said he will be awarded the police Purple Shield, presented to officers who suffer extreme injury or death in the line of duty. The former U.S. Marine will also be awarded the Medal of Honor, the highest medal for employees who distinguish themselves “by an act of heroism at the cost of imminent personal danger,” Dugan said.
Madsen's family will receive the Gold Cross Award, presented to families of law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty, Dugan said.
A candlelight vigil was set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the department’s downtown headquarters. His name will be added to the Fallen Officers Memorial will be unveiled. A public funeral is planned for 11 a.m. Tuesday, followed by a private service will at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell.