Plant City Police Department’s Officer Christian Lopez was honored Tuesday night at the 57th annual East Hillsborough Law Enforcement Appreciation Dinner.
PCPD, Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Highway Patrol and Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were present and each honored their own Officer of the Year winners at the event.
“Tonight, the Plant City Police Department is honored to recognize Officer Christian Lopez as our 2019 East Hillsborough Law Enforcement Officer of the Year,” Chief Ed Duncan said. “Christian began his career with the Plant City Police Department in 2012 as a patrol officer. He quickly identified himself as one that liked to work traffic crashes — I have no idea why he’d want to do that — and his interest in traffic enforcement. He quickly identified his abilities and wanted to improve.”
And improve he did. In 2016 Lopez was assigned to the Traffic Management Unit where he became one of four motorcycle officers tasked with working all traffic accidents that result in serious bodily injuries or death. Duncan said Lopez’s attitude toward seeking information and evolving his skills was “impeccable.”
He would go out of his way to work with other agencies and learn from their advanced knowledge. Rather than simply turning in his finalized report he would personally reach out to the State Attorney’s office to ensure the cases he sent to them “would not fail in court and would survive the challenges of a trail.”
Within the past year, Lopez has been the lead investigator on two of the most difficult traffic fatalities in Plant City. In December of 2017 he covered a crash on James L. Redman Pkwy. where a northbound pickup truck, driven by Bradley McTaggart, veered off the road, crossed the median and struck a southbound Ford. The impact killed the passenger of the Ford and seriously injured the driver. Then the vehicle deflected into another southbound vehicle that was occupied by a family of four, before it finally came to a rest on its side. PCPD’s officers were there immediately and, based on his preliminary interviews and the evidence he uncovered, Lopez suspected McTaggart was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash.
The plot only continued to thicken and the investigation ended up taking approximately a year. In the end Lopez determined McTaggart suffered from alcohol related withdrawal seizures and had been involved in several prior accidents due to the issue. But instead of staying away from a car he continued to throw himself behind the wheel. Lopez attempted to prove he was endangering motorists within both Plant City and Hillsborough County.
He brought the case before a Traffic Homicide Committee, worked with HCSO to coordinate surveillance of the driver and eventually was able to make the arrest. Instead of calling it a day, he continued to work with the Assistant State Attorney, Aaron Hubbard, as trial preparations began.
Hubbard said he was “unaware that if anyone has ever filed a similar case in the State of Florida or anywhere in the United States. I believe the charges and investigation of the driver is the first of its kind. This is a highly unique case and it would not have been possible to file charges without the tremendous investigation that was conducted by officer Lopez.”
In January 2019, Lopez continued to show his prowess when he tackled a case where a female hit-and-run suspect struck three men who were walking across State Road 574. One man died as a result of the crash and the driver fled the scene. Lopez was able to investigate the scene, locate the vehicle shortly after and continue to collect evidence. He discovered the driver had fled to Mexico to avoid prosecution so he took extra time to discuss options and strategies with the State Attorney’s Office to secure an arrest warrant. He then placed an alert with U.S. Customs in the event she attempted to ever cross the border.
“His passion for excellence and his tenacity in his investigations have served this community extremely well,” Duncan said.
Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission honored Officer Garret Fields, FHP honored Trooper Joseph Angelicchi and HCSO honored Plant City native Master Deputy Kathleen Garrison, who worked the tragic shooting in December near Plant City High School where an off-duty deputy announced on the HCSO radio he had murdered three family members and was suicidal.
The event began in 1962 to honor the late Sgt. Ben Wilder, a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Officer who was shot and killed on duty at a home located southeast of Plant City while responding to an arrest warrant. Its motto, “Founded in tragedy, continued in honor,” reflects its humble roots.
All those in attendance were treated to a catered dinner from Johnson’s Barbeque and there were door prizes following the awards ceremony for members of each agency. Brewington’s Towing & Recovery was the title sponsor of the event and used its equipment to hang a giant American flag outside the entrance, welcoming all of the officers and their families as they walked into the event.