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Fla. Deputy Killed in On-Duty Car Crash

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April 20, 2004

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Fla. Deputy Killed in On-Duty Car Crash

Officer Down: David Abella - [Tampa, Florida]

A Hillsborough, Fla. sheriff's deputy since July, he is the first in 17 years to die in the line of duty.

St. Petersburg Times (Florida)

TAMPA, FLA. -- Deputy David Abella didn't mind working nights for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

Patrolling the darkened streets of southeast Hillsborough meant he got home in time to see his three children wake up in the morning. He was there to help them get dressed. He sat down to breakfast with them in their Plant City home.

Wednesday morning, Abella didn't make it home.

The 26-year-old Plant City High graduate died seven hours into his shift after his patrol car hit a curb and slammed into two utility poles on 50th Street north of Causeway Boulevard.

Abella's death marked the first time in 17 years that the Sheriff's Office lost a deputy in the line of duty.

"This is a sad day for the Sheriff's Office family," said Chief Deputy David Gee, his voice breaking as he stood outside the department's Ybor City headquarters.

For Abella's tight-knit family, his death marked the loss of their most selfless relative.

He was the oldest son of Pamela and David Abella and the first grandchild of Marian and Floyd Howard. His aunt, Sandy Liess of Plant City, said he saw his parents, who live in Temple Terrace, about every day. In recent months, as the Howards fell ill, Abella was the first to help out.

"We could always count on David - the yard, the car, fixing a patch on the roof," said Mrs. Howard, 64. "He was just a good kid. But I guess somebody wanted him upstairs."

Shortly before midnight Tuesday, Abella was headed to the Radiant Food Store near Causeway Boulevard and 50th Street to investigate reports of trespassing.

When he tried to swerve around a slow-moving southbound semitrailer truck, his patrol car hit a curb on 50th Street.

"He tried to get around the truck and just overcorrected," sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said.

Abella lost control of the car, slamming into one utility pole and then spinning into another. The impact started a small fire inside the car, but it was extinguished quickly.

Abella was airlifted to Tampa General Hospital. He died there at 1:46 a.m.

Carter said until the department reconstructs the accident and finishes its investigation, it's impossible to know how fast Abella was driving when he lost control of the car.

* * *

Angela Abella knew she had found someone special on that first dinner date with David. She was living in Louisiana, where he was stationed with the Coast Guard.

"I could tell right away he was the one," Mrs. Abella, 23, said Wednesday morning. They dated for about a year and married in 1999, on New Year's Eve.

By then, David Abella was no longer on active duty with the Coast Guard, where he had spent four years out of high school as a machinery technician and fireman.

The young couple moved back to Hillsborough County, where Abella grew up. Abella's stepson, Shawn, 6, was soon joined by sisters Alissa, 3, and Alexis, 2. Recently, he coached Shawn in baseball and watched Alissa learn to play soccer.

"If he wasn't at work, he was with his family," Mrs. Abella said. "He was the dad that always got on the floor and played with them. . . . They adore him."

Wednesday afternoon, relatives worried about Mrs. Abella.

"She just looks at her three little children and can't fathom a life without her soul mate," said Bo Liess, Abella's uncle.

* * *

David Abella, who came from a long line of firefighters, always wanted to be in law enforcement.

He joined the Sheriff's Office in July after going through the law enforcement academy at Hillsborough Community College and getting a stack of references from teachers, friends and employers.

This year, Abella received two letters of commendation. One, in March, thanked him for pulling over a suspicious vehicle - a move that led to the arrests of four car burglary suspects and the recovery of $5,000 in stolen property. The month before, he was recognized for comforting the 13-year-old daughter of a man rushed to the hospital.

His family said they will take comfort in knowing Abella died doing something he loved.

"All he ever wanted was to be a deputy," Liess said. "He said he wanted to be sheriff someday."

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