ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – A 30-year-old Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputy was killed while trying to help stop a drunken driver who was leading authorities on a high-speed chase.
Deputy Michael Magli had stopped his patrol car in the median on Wednesday to deploy stop sticks used to puncture tires when he was struck by the truck deputies were chasing, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said during a news conference.
Gualtieri told reporters that Robert Allen Holzaepfel, 33, was driving under the influence and on a suspended license when he hit Magli.
Holzaepfel was arrested Wednesday night, and is charged with first-degree felony murder, DUI manslaughter, driving without a valid license resulting in death and aggravated fleeing and eluding law enforcement, the sheriff said. He was on probation and has 16 prior felony convictions, Gualtieri added.
The chase began Wednesday afternoon, shortly after an East Lake Fire Rescue crew responded to a call about someone passed out at the wheel at a red light, Gualtieri said.
The crew broke a window, which woke up Holzaepfel, who then sped away in what the sheriff described as “extremely reckless and very dangerous.”
“He needed to be stopped or he was going to hurt someone else,” the sheriff said. “The safest way to do it was to deflate the tires and not endanger anyone else.”
A short time later, Holzaepfel’s truck slammed into Magli, who was outside of his cruiser. The truck spun into the median, trapping the deputy under it, the sheriff said.
“Deputy Magli was trying to protect people,” Gualtieri said. “He stepped up like cops do and tried to keep people from being hurt and lost his life in the process.”
His death comes weeks after a deputy in neighboring Hillsborough County was killed by a fleeing suspect.
Magli has been with the sheriff’s office since 2013. He worked part-time as a criminal justice specialist at the courthouse, and worked full-time on patrol duty after graduating from the police academy in 2014, officials said.
He was married and had two children. Gualtieri told reporters he was going to visit the deputy’s family on Wednesday night.
Holzaepfel told deputies he was transient and living out of his truck, the sheriff said. A lawyer for Holzaepfel was not listed on jail records.