The decisive actions of four good Samaritans likely saved the life of a motorist who drove his car into Port Jefferson Harbor via the Brookhaven Town boat ramp at the end of Barnum Avenue in Port Jeff Village in April, and for their efforts the heroic men were honored by the board of trustees during a meeting July 17.
Scott Declue was on the phone with his wife Jeyce, with whom he had plans to meet later in the evening April 6. The 40-year-old Mount Sinai resident said in a phone interview he was driving on Route 25A in a severe rainstorm, and was sitting at the light at the intersection of Barnum Avenue and Route 25A, yards south of the boat ramp which leads straight into the harbor. When the light turned green, he said miraculously it stopped raining, and near the edge of the dock he could see a car almost fully submerged in the water. Declue said he told his wife he was going to pull over to take a picture. Soon after stepping out of the car he said he saw a person’s head peeking out of the sunroof of the car.
“If I don’t do something this guy is going to die in front of me,” Declue said was the thought crossing his mind as he began running to the end of the dock, shedding clothing as he went. Declue dove into the water and swam to the car.
Port Jefferson Village resident Neil DeVine, 38, was also driving when he said he realized something was out of the ordinary. He said he was making a right onto Barnum Avenue from Route 25A when he caught a glimpse of the car, and turned around to enter the marina parking lot. He said he repeatedly tried to call 911 but got a busy signal several times.
“I didn’t expect the water to be as cold as it was,” DeVine said during a phone interview. Village Mayor Margot Garant said during the presentation of a proclamation to honor the heroism of the four men that the water was about 38 degrees at the time of the incident, which occurred around 5:30 p.m. DeVine said he and Declue jumped in the water, but he soon realized his heart rate and breathing were slowing.
Declue reached the car and got on the roof attempting to pull the driver out of the car. DeVine said he went back to the dock and tried to find a way to help pull both men to safety. The two men described DeVine luckily finding a line from a crane on a nearby barge that was tied to a ring, and both line and ring were thrown to Declue and the victim. DeVine, with other-witnesses-turned-heroes Tony Barton and Wayne Rampone Jr., pulled the two men to the dock and lifted them out of the water. Barton and Rampone could not attend the meeting.
Declue, who is an Eagle Scout, said he thought the victim was dead while he tried to get him to safety.
“His eyes were rolled back a little bit and yellowish,” DeVine said of the victim. He added during the rescue he heard the driver say he couldn’t swim.
“If I don’t do something this guy is going to die in front of me.”
— Scott Declue
Since the incident Declue said he spoke briefly with the victim and family members, but no in-person meeting has taken place. DeVine said the victim’s mother wrote a letter to DeVine’s children, thanking him for his bravery and explaining the actions the men took on the night of the incident.
Declue said he had a hard time articulating to his wife what exactly happened after he tossed his phone and sprinted to the end of the dock.
“I think I saved someone’s life,” he said he told her. “She asked, ‘How big was this puddle?’”
Declue called it divine intervention that his plans changed.
“I wasn’t even supposed to be there,” he said, adding that the incident kept him up at night for weeks.
DeVine said he was appreciative of the village recognizing their actions.
“We want to thank you for, really, saving a life in the Village of Port Jefferson,” Garant said. “That’s what this community stands for — citizens like yourselves seeing a person in harm’s way or an accident situation — so I really want to commend you on behalf of the board of trustees.”
The victim was treated for severe injuries in the aftermath of the incident according to the Suffolk County Police Department, and his current condition is not known.