Florida Highway Patrol troopers console one another at the scene where their colleague was shot and killed on U.S. 27 Friday afternoon.
Dying from a gunshot wound, Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. Nick Sottile Sr. mustered just enough strength to radio for help.
Minutes later, he lay on an operating table at Florida Hospital-Lake Placid, a couple miles south of where he had been shot on a bucolic stretch of U.S. 27 rimmed by orange groves.
Sottile, 48, was pronounced dead shortly before 5 p.m. Friday. For hours afterward, hundreds of troopers and law enforcement officers from across the state scoured the area for the two men said to be involved in his killing.
At the same time, investigators tried to stitch together the events that made Sottile the 41st Florida trooper to die in the line of duty since 1936.
Highway patrol spokesmen Larry Coggins and Sgt. Daniel Taylor gave this account:
Sottile pulled over a car at 3:22 p.m. between Lake Placid and Sebring.
A passenger hopped out and started running. As Sottile chased the man toward an orange grove, the man turned and shot the trooper.
The driver of the car took off, driving north on U.S. 27.
Sottile then radioed for help.
Friday, the patrol and hundreds of other law enforcement officials were searching for the two men.
Officers with police dogs roamed area citrus groves. Elsewhere, troopers and other law enforcement officers searched the region for the car, described as a white or cream-colored Toyota Camry with T2 on the license plate.
“Right now we have a job to do, and that job is we have to find a cop killer and we have to bury a trooper,” Coggins said. “When something like this happens, it ripples throughout the whole law enforcement community,” he said.
Law enforcement officers from several branches and across the state were assisting in the search. A command post was set up near the shooting scene. A Florida Highway Patrol helicopter was deployed, Coggins said.Traffic on U.S. 27 was backed up in both directions.
A 24-year veteran of the highway patrol, Sottile once worked in the Tampa area but most recently was assigned to Troop F, which has its headquarters in Bradenton and covers 10 counties including Highlands, Sarasota and Manatee.
“His personnel file is just jammed with commendations,” Coggins said.
Sottile, who lived in Lake Placid, leaves behind a wife, Elizabeth; a daughter, Heather, of Orlando; and a son, Nick, of Tampa, who works for the Florida Highway Patrol at Troop C in Tampa.
Bill Jeter of Sebring, who was Sottile’s stepfather for about 10 years while married to Sottile’s mother, Ruth, recalled Sottile as a “church-going man” who loved tending to his cows and horses. He said he hadn’t spoken to Sottile for a few years but remembers him as being proud of his highway patrol service.
“He liked it very much. He was that kind of guy. He was a good guy, a family guy. He always talked about his family,” Jeter said.
I’m so sad and so angry right now!
Two hundred officers are searching for the shooter right now. I hope all 200 officers have a line of sight to shoot the bastard when they find him!