The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office says Deputy Juan Lazu was on patrol early Sunday when a sport utility vehicle crossed the median and struck his vehicle.
CARROLLWOOD, Fla.- A trapped Hillsborough County Sheriff's Deputy was pulled from his smashed and smoldering cruiser moments before it burst into flames Sunday. Investigators say Deputy Juan Lazu, 47, was driving westbound in his marked cruiser on Bearss Avenue when the driver of a Ford Excursion crossed over the center median and hit the Sheriff's Office vehicle nearly head on. The impact sent the patrol vehicle rotating counter clockwise, finally coming to rest nearly 45 feet from the area of impact.
Deputy Lazu was pinned inside his car, but managed to radio in for help. Emergency crews and deputies arrived, pulling Lazu from his smoldering cruiser just in time.
"Like we've all seen in the Hollywood videos, where drivers are pulled out moments before the car exploded... that's what happened in this case," said Hillsborough County spokesman Larry McKinnon. "Unfortunately it was not a Hollywood video, and it was a real scene where our deputy could have been killed because a drunk driver made the poor choice of getting behind the wheel."
Investigators have identified the driver of the Excursion as 42-year-old Angel Pena of Tampa. Deputies say Pena smelled of alcohol as he was removed from his vehicle before being transported to St. Joseph's Hospital complaining of injuries.
Pena was medically cleared from the hospital and has since been charged with DUI with property damage and refusing to submit to a blood or breath test. Public records show he has a long list of previous arrests including two previous charges of D.U.I. in April and May of 2005.
Deputy Lazu who has been employed by the Sheriff's Office since July of 2002, is recovering at home with minor injuries.
"If it wasn't for the push bumpers on the front of that patrol car as well as the deputy wearing his seatbelt we'd be planning a funeral today," said McKinnon. "This is a dangerous job not only because of gunfire and people who are attacking us, but traffic."