On September 20th, 2004, at 3:23 AM, the Tallahassee Regional Communications Center received a call from a frantic caller who was traveling south in Bay County on U.S. Highway 231 in a runaway vehicle with its accelerator stuck. FHP Duty Officers gave the caller several possible solutions to stop their vehicle. Acting on the advice, the driver tried everything--switching the engine off, using the emergency brake, shifting gears--nothing worked.
In the meantime, a BOLO to all troopers patrolling the area in Bay County was issued. Trooper Phillip Spaziante and Sergeant David Drake soon responded, locating the runaway van. With the assistance of FHP communications personnel and the Bay County Sheriff's Office, vital information was relayed to the family regarding the procedures that would take place in an attempt to stop their vehicle safely. Sergeant Drake and Trooper Spaziante knew that the vehicle, which was traveling at 120 miles per hour, was going too fast to negotiate the upcoming intersection of U.S. Highways 231 & 98, so they had to act quickly. They knew that if the vehicle crashed, the result would most likely be fatal.
Sgt. Drake attempted to stop the runaway vehicle by slowing his patrol car in front of the runaway van until the van’s front bumper made contact with the rear bumper of his patrol car. Once contact was made, Sergeant Drake applied his brakes. He was able to slow the vehicle down to approximately 95 miles per hour before the driver of the van started to lose control. Sgt. Drake quickly steered away to allow the driver enough space to regain full control.
Trooper Spaziante then pulled ahead of the runaway van. Suddenly, the van’s right front tire blew, causing it to slow to approximately 80 miles per hour. Trooper Spaziante, using the same tactic to slow the vehicle down, began braking in front of the van. The driver, however, started to lose control once again. Trooper Spaziante accelerated and tried again. His second attempt was successful, bringing the vehicle a stop. The runaway vehicle's engine was still running full throttle, pushing Trooper Spaziante's patrol car forward. Several officers quickly pulled the family out of the vehicle while Sgt. Drake entered the vehicle and shut the engine down. The vehicle was stopped about 1 ½ miles north of the dangerous intersection where a serious crash would have occurred.
Sergeant David Drake exposed himself to great personal danger while taking swift and decisive action in order to prevent serious bodily injury or death to the family traveling in the runaway vehicle. During this harrowing event, Sergeant David Drake remained dauntless and steadfast while attempting to protect human lives and is hereby commended for his act of heroism and recognized as a most worthy recipient of the Florida Highway Patrol’s most distinguished award, the Medal of Valor.
Colonel Christopher A. Knight
Director, Florida Highway Patrol