BROOKSVILLE (FOX 13) - A reunion 47 years in the making happened Friday – between a former Brooksville sheriff’s deputy and a woman whose mom he helped rescue from a hostage situation.
In 1970, Jeff Duval responded to the brutal killing of a truck stop worker, and then helped free a woman the shooter took hostage. And now, a chance encounter on social media has connected Duval with the daughter of that rescued hostage.
“It's like it happened yesterday,” Jeff Duval told FOX 13 News before recounting that day almost 40 years past.
On July 17, 1970, James Dearman walked into what was then the Greasy Spoon truck stop on US-98, just North of Lake Lindsay, and shot the owner's daughter. He then took his 26-year-old wife, Jeri Thalman hostage.
She begged Dearman to take her to see her family before he killed her.
Hours later, Deputy Jeff Duval - then 20 - was one of many who responded to the home on Neff Lake Road, where Dearman was holding Thalman at gunpoint.
“The sheriff said, ‘We have to take him out,’” Duval recalls, more than 40 years later. "I felt a cold chill come over me."
“I said, ‘Even though he has killed that girl, would you give me an opportunity to talk to him?’” Duval asked the sheriff.
Duval took his gun belt off, raised his hands, and walked forward.
“He took the gun off her, which I wanted him to do, and put it on me… I'm looking down a .38, close range,” Duval said. “I heard a muffled shot… I fell face down into Neff Lake Road. I said, ‘I am dead. I don't feel any pain.’”
But it was another deputy who had fired. And it was Dearman who was dead.
For 47 years, Kim Thalman had heard every detail of her mom, Jeri’s story, except how Duval's distraction saved her.
She never knew her stepfather, James. He died three years before she was born.
“He was just that mean of a man,” Kim Thalman said. “Of course he was threatening to kill her. That was what he told her all day. He had her hostage at gun and knifepoint.”
But now she’s hearing another side of the story after a social media thread about the incident connected her with the man who helped save her mother’s life. Kim and Duval met three weeks ago after they each joined an online discussion about the incident that became infamous in Brooksville.
“It means more than I can ever put into words,” Kim Thalman said. “If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be sitting here; I wouldn't have the three children I have.”
Kim’s mother died five years ago, never having the full grasp of exactly how she was saved, and by whom.
“The first thing she would do is obviously say thank you,” Kim Thalman said of her mother.
Duval stayed in law enforcement until 1995.
“I would say I am just glad that God put me there that day to do what I am sworn to do,” Duval said.