By Anthony Petriello

A Suffolk County Police Department officer’s quick thinking and decisive actions saved lives on the morning of July 11 in the Long Island Sound off the coast in Miller Place.

Trouble arose in the water at about 9:20 a.m. that morning, but luckily for two Suffolk County residents enjoying the day canoeing on the North Shore, officer James Behrens of SCPD’s 6th Precinct arrived on the scene quickly to assist when the vessel capsized.

“I’m just glad everyone came out of the situation okay,” Behrens said. 

Behrens responded to a 911 call citing men yelling for help in the water off of Landing Road in Miller Place. Thinking fast, he said he removed his bulletproof vest and gun belt and grabbed a life ring from his police cruiser. The original report said there were four victims in the water, according to the officer, so Behrens determined his life ring would not be sufficient for the rescue. Behrens said he saw a paddleboard in the yard at a nearby residence, the owner of which was not home, and commandeered it for the rescue. He then proceeded into the water for an approximately 600-foot swim out to the capsized canoe. 

Although the victims were wearing life preservers, the water that day was extremely choppy, and the men were having trouble staying above the waterline, according to Behrens. Shortly after he reached the men and aided them onto the paddleboard, Town of Brookhaven Bay Constable Steven Bennett arrived on a boat and assisted Behrens in pulling the first victim, Edgar Guirola-Hernandez, 33, of Brentwood, out of the water. 

Suffolk County Marine Bureau Officers Neil Stringer and Christopher Erickson arrived aboard Marine Delta and pulled the second man, Luis Ramirez, 44, of Centereach, as well as Behrens, out of the water. The victims were evaluated by the Miller Place Fire Department at the Cedar Beach Marina and refused further medical treatment, according to a press release from the SCPD. 

“He went above and beyond,” said SCPD Sgt. William Gibaldi, of Behrens’ efforts, who was at the scene shortly after the men were rescued. “Officer Behrens was very quick thinking, grabbing a paddleboard and doing what was necessary to save the men.”