A 30-year-old Smith Point County Park bridge operator who started on the job just two months ago became an unexpected hero this week after saving a man drowning in the choppy waters of the bay beneath him.
The man jumped from the bridge at around 6 p.m on Monday in an apparent suicide attempt, officials said. His name was withheld for privacy reasons.
While working in the booth atop the bridge, Victor Smith, of Patchogue, said he heard the man call out for help as he bobbed up and down in the water.
He went four floors down to the base of the bridge to pull him out of the water.
The man was then taken by a Suffolk County Police Marine Bureau boat to the Smith Point Marina, where an ambulance took him to the hospital. Police say his condition was non-life threatening.
Two residents said they could hear and see the struggling man from their backyard.
“My wife heard screaming — the wailing screaming,” said John DeBatto, of Mastic Beach, who previously volunteered with the Center Moriches Fire Department and is a Fairfield real estate developer.
The DeBattos called 911 then called out to Smith after he had descended to water level to help to point out where to find the man.
“He was able to pull him right up because of the way the current was pulling him,” DeBatto said.
County Executive Steve Bellone and Suffolk Legis. Rudy Sunderman came down to Smith Point Bridge Friday morning to present Smith with a proclamation and certificate in honor of his life-saving duties.
Since the day of the rescue, Smith’s wife, Emily, has lovingly referred to him as “my hero.” And she said their eldest daughter, Kylee, 6, “has been telling everyone in every store, ‘My daddy’s a hero.'”
“I didn’t really think about it, to be honest with you,” Victor Smith said. “It was just to help someone out.”
While Smith declines being considered a hero, his family and county officials continue to insist he is.
“We’re together to honor all public service workers who are a part of the same mission and that is to help people and make our community a better place,” Bellone said. “Today exemplifies that, in the most dramatic of ways. We want to recognize him for his alertness, commitment to duty and responsibility that literally helped to save someone’s life.”
A more formal honoring ceremony will take place at the next Suffolk County Legislature general meeting on July 16 at 9:30 a.m in Hauppauge, where Sunderman will present Smith with a proclamation.