TAMPA — There are moments that can cause life to stand still, that forever alter your life and the lives of those around you. Sometimes they leave scars.
Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Deputy Douglas Duvall has had more than one.
It’s Nov. 19, and Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Deputy Douglas Duvall is standing next to his wife and three young children. Gov. Rick Scott is next to them. Duvall, 31, is dressed in a formal deputy’s uniform with long sleeves and black tie. Everyone is smiling as they wait for the photographer.
Scott shook his hand and placed the state’s Medal of Heroism around his neck.
“I’m not a real recognition guy,” Duvall said a week after receiving the honor. “I’m humbled. I really didn’t expect it. It’s not like I’m embarrassed. I do this because that is what I do.”
Duvall, a sheriffs’ deputy since 2007, received the state’s honor for his actions in February when he was the first to arrive at a Seffner home where a sinkhole swallowed a bedroom, killing Jeffrey Bush.
Duvall went into the bedroom and found Jeffrey’s brother, Jeremy, inside the edge of the sinkhole as he tried to save his brother.
“Big chunks of the earth were falling into it,” Duvall said. “You could see it going out and you could see it getting deeper.”
“The floor was unstable and breaking off,” Duvall said. “It felt like I was on a diving board.”
In the sinkhole, he could see the bed frame, mattress and dresser, still sinking into the earth. He could hear the sinkhole as it rumbled and growled, he said.
Duvall got on his knees, reached down and grabbed Jeremy Bush’s hand. He pulled him out of the sinkhole and escorted him out of the home.
The deputy still keeps in touch with Jeremy Bush and his family through Facebook. When he received the Community Service Award from Brandon’s Bell Shoals Baptist Church this year, they attended, he said.
In most cases, deputies do their duty and move on, he said. This time, it was different.
“I was there,” Duvall said. “I experienced it with them. I stayed there on the incident scene.”
The fatal sinkhole garnered national attention. People who weren’t there still remember. Strangers will call out his name at the mall or at a restaurant and come over to talk about the sinkhole. People he’s never met send him emails.
“It reignites that flame that you are doing something good,” Duvall said.
Along with Florida’s Medal of Heroism, which is given to police officers, firefighters, correctional officers and first responders who risk their lives, Duvall was named this year’s Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Deputy of the Year and Law Enforcement Officer of the Year by the Hillsborough County Bar Association.
“When you get to help somebody, it’s nice,” Duvall said. “That you made a difference _ whether it’s a big difference or a small difference _ you made one.”
Sheriff’s Major Clyde Eisenberg, who attended the Tallahassee ceremony, described Duvall as humble and hardworking. He puts others before his own safety, he said.
“It is what we expect deputies to do,” Eisenberg said. “You expect them to go in and take action. That is what we train for and what we expect them to do.”
Duval has been in danger before while doing his duty.
He joined the U.S. Army after graduating from high school in Blue Ridge, Ga. in 2000. He served from 2000 to 2007, spending time in Kosovo and Baghdad.
In April of 2005, he was returning to a base in Baghdad when his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device. The blast killed the driver.
Duvall was riding on top as a gunner. The explosion blew out his triceps muscle, and shrapnel hit his head. He spent a month recovering from his wounds. He was awarded a Purple Heart.
Then he returned to duty.
Duvall had worked in the military police while serving in the Army. Once his stint in the military was through, he figured working in law enforcement was an obvious transition. He has been a Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office deputy since 2007.
He likes working hard, he said, and helping others. He figures it’s his duty.