Beach day turns rescue for local cop

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BRATTLEBORO — A pleasant day off on the beach turned out to be just another day on the job for a former deputy with the Windham County Sheriff's Office.

Chris DeVito and his significant other, Kayla Healy, were visiting family on Long Island when they decided to spend some time at the Southold, N.Y., beach on South Harbor Road when they noticed something amiss.

Southold is on the northeast tip of Long Island, on the Long Island Sound. The beach DeVito and Healy were visiting is where Richmond Creek empties into Hogneck Bay.

"We were just enjoying the beach," he said.

There were only about 10 people on the beach when he and others noticed some kids in the water.

"All of sudden they were screaming for help," said DeVito, who recently left the Sheriff's Office to join the Bellows Falls Police Department.

For a second, he thought the kids were just playing around.

"Just kids being kids," said DeVito, but in the seconds that followed, he and others on the beach realized the kids were in real trouble.

"We swam out and grabbed them," he said. "They were in about six feet of water and had been swept out into the channel."

DeVito grabbed an 11-year-old girl who had been keeping afloat two younger children.

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"Luckily, I'm six foot two and I was able to tiptoe along the bottom," he said.

The girl he rescued was coughing up a little water, and paramedics arrived shortly thereafter. In the end, everyone was OK.

"It was definitely a surprise," said DeVito. "I'm just glad we were there, in the right place at the right time. It could have been terrible if there had been no one around."

According to a police report issued by the Southold Police Department, the 911 call was made at 2:21 p.m. on June 16. The incident has been classified as a near drowning.

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DeVito was assisted by John Bloom, Emily Perry and Christopher Kirincic, all of Southold, and Yaas Azmouden, of Dix Hills, N.Y. Kirincic is a volunteer firefighter with Southold Fire Department.

The report notes that three juveniles were playing in the water when they suddenly found themselves in water that was too deep and began to struggle.

"Bystanders, DeVito, Bloom, Azmoudeh and Kirincic all observed the young girl and the two boys in trouble, screaming for help, and swam towards them, while a fifth bystander, Perry jumped on her paddle board to assist with the rescue," states the report. "Due to the efforts and quick thinking of the bystanders, all three victims were rescued and brought to shore."

The juveniles were transported to Eastern Long Island Hospital for treatment before

being released.

"I'm very proud of the quick thinking and action of DeVito and the other bystanders," said Windham County Sheriff Mark Anderson. "The decisive action and leadership to prevent the drowning of these children is characteristic of what the Windham County Sheriff's Office expects of its current and former employees both on and off duty."

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"My reaction was instinctual," DeVito said. "I saw people in trouble and ran out there. I didn't think too much about it. It was almost like a scene for Baywatch."

Southold Police Chief Martin Flatley said this part of Long Island is a spot many police officers and firefighters come for vacation and much-needed time off. He said DeVito and Kirincic were in the right place at the right time.

"That's a difficult area with a channel coming into the bay and the tide moves pretty quick," he said. "They keep it dredged in the middle for boat traffic, which means you can walk out into the water and take a step and be over your head. That's what happened with these three kids. They probably felt safe and then ventured too far out."

He said Southold has a number of channels like this where swimmers need to exercise caution.

"This very easily could have gone bad," said Flatley. "I want to send a big thank you to these folks. They were here relaxing with family and friends and when they heard somebody cry for help they jumped in without hesitation. That's no different from what we do every day."

DeVito grew up on Long Island, in Nassau County. Healy, who is a trooper with Vermont State Police stationed in Westminster, also grew up on Long Island, in Suffolk County.

DeVito, who has been in the National Guard for six years, went to Castleton University and signed on with the sheriff's department, his first assignment as a law officer, in 2018.

"I went into this career to serve the community," DeVito said.

Bob Audette can be contacted at raudette@reformer.com.


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