TEMPLE TERRACE (FOX 13) - A Temple Terrace Police officer was recovering at home Wednesday after a wrong-way driver crashed into him and another car in Dade City.
A spokesperson for the police department said Officer Nick Dittman was on his way back from firearms training in Lakeland. Florida Highway Patrol investigators said Dittman had just turned onto Clinton Avenue from U.S. 301 when he saw another vehicle heading toward him on the wrong side of the road.
Dittman flipped on his emergency lights, then swerved just before impact, narrowly avoiding a head-on collision.
The crash caused the wrong-way driver, identified by troopers as Louise Valentine, 63, to spin her car into the vehicle directly behind the officer's SUV. The third vehicle was driven by Charity Cangro.
"It was terrifying. I don't know what the brain does, but it all kind of happened in slow motion," Cangro told FOX 13, adding she remembers everything that happened. "I saw his police lights come on and then I saw the headlights and then I watched the wrong-way driver hit him and then spin and hit the front end of my vehicle."
Cangro said, had the officer not turned on his emergency lights, more cars might have been involved.
"By turning on his [emergency] lights, he alerted those that were behind us because it wasn't just us that made the turn, there were several other vehicles," she said.
Troopers don't believe Valentine had been drinking, but they are still investigating.
Afterward, Cangro was sore, but able to walk away. Officer Dittman, 31, meanwhile, tried to help the others involved in the crash.
"Despite his own injuries, he immediately thought of everyone else; he jumped out of the vehicle and rendered first aid," said Michael Dunn, a spokesperson for Temple Terrace Police.
This crash is the third wrong-way incident involving law enforcement in less than two weeks.
On March 12, Hillsborough County Deputy John Kotfila was killed when he collided head-on with a wrong-way driver on the Selmon Expressway. The other driver also died.
And a Tampa Police officer's dashboard camera recorded the moment he dodged a wrong-way driver n I-275 Sunday.
"It's very scary. It's very upsetting. It just lets you know how dangerous it can be out there," Dunn said.
Cangro, 20, saw first-hand how dangerous it can be and is thankful she survived.
"I think if she had hit me first, there's a chance I couldn't be standing here right now," she said. "I'm very grateful to be alive and I'm thankful that the officer is alive and that he was wearing his seatbelt and didn't go through the windshield."
Troopers said Valentine was not wearing a seatbelt and had to be airlifted to the hospital with serious, but non-life-threatening injuries.