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Riverhead, Southampton officers honored for life-saving efforts

Captain Richard Smith, left, presents Det. Frank Hernandez with Riverhead's Officer of the Year Award Friday

As Det. Frank Hernandez approached a running vehicle last February while off-duty at Isaac Dog Park in Calverton, he noticed a vent pipe connected to the car’s tailpipe had been routed through the passenger-side window. Upon closer inspection, he realized exhaust fumes were filling the vehicle, where a 40-year-old man was attempting suicide. 

Mr. Hernandez’s efforts over the next few minutes to save the man’s life earned him the department’s Officer of the Year award, presented by the Southampton Kiwanis Club. Mr. Hernandez, a 29-year veteran of the Riverhead Police Department, along with two Southampton Town police officers, were honored Friday at the annual East End Police Awards dinner at Hyatt Place East End’s Sea Star Ballroom.

Riverhead Capt. Richard Smith presented Mr. Hernandez with the award and described the harrowing scene.

Mr. Hernandez, he said, first noticed the vehicle parked in a suspicious manner. He called 911 and, while approaching the car, spotted a man in the driver’s seat holding a razor blade. He had injuries to both wrists and pills were piled in his lap, Capt. Smith said.

“When Frank began to open the driver’s door, the man became combative, threw a bottle at Frank and began to swallow a large quantity of pills,” Capt. Smith said. “At this point, Det. Hernandez physically removed the victim from his car and subdued him until police arrived.”

The man was taken to a hospital, where it was discovered he was a Marine suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Capt. Smith said.

“There is no doubt that Frank saved this gentleman’s life that morning,” he said.

Mr. Hernandez was also the lead detective in the investigation of two bank robberies that led to an arrest in early 2015, less than a week after the first robbery.

“Frank no doubt prevented additional crimes and helped to calm the community,” Capt. Smith said.

In addition, he was the lead detective in the investigation of two armed robberies that occurred on Main Street in Riverhead later that spring, Capt. Smith said.

Currently, Mr. Hernandez is also assigned to the department’s U.S. Marshal’s Task Force and its Court Intervention Response Team. He trains other officers in firearms, active shooter situations and Taser use, Capt. Smith said.

“Frank is universally respected by his peers and is the type of employee every supervisor hopes for,” he said.

Mr. Hernandez was the recipient of the Riverhead Police Benevolent Association’s first-ever Officer of the Year award in 1991. In 2004, he won the Riverhead Town Labor Management Committee’s Riverhead Town Employee of the Year award.

Photo Caption: Captain Richard Smith, left, presents Det. Frank Hernandez with Riverhead’s Officer of the Year Award Friday. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

Southampton Town Officer Keith Phillips, left, Captain Larry Schurek, and Officer Eric Breitwieser at Friday's Police Awards ceremony in Riverhead
Southampton Town Officer Keith Phillips, left, Captain Larry Schurek, and Officer Eric Breitwieser at Friday’s Police Awards ceremony in Riverhead. (Credit: Tim Gannon)

On Friday, the Southampton Town Police Department honored two officers.

Keith Phillips, a seven-year member of the department who is also a member of the police dive team and Emergency Services Unit, has also been instrumental in the introduction and development of the Narcan program over the past two years to treat heroin overdoses, according to Southampton Capt. Larry Schurek.

On Jan. 16, Mr. Phillips answered a call regarding an unconscious man lying in the road near the County Center bus stop in Riverside. The man was turning and gasping, and Mr. Phillips, who is a trained emergency medical technician, determined that the man had overdosed on opiates.

“He immediately administered the Narcan treatment and most likely saved the individual’s life,” Capt. Schurek said.

At the time, police reports stated the 39-year-old man was conscious and talking within a few minutes of having Narcan administered.

Mr. Phillips also made more than 120 arrests in 2015, including 40 for driving while intoxicated, Capt. Schurek said.

Also honored by the Southampton police department was Erik Breitwieser, a 10-year officer who pulled a man from a burning car that overturned in North Sea just after midnight on Nov. 13.

“Without officer Breitwieser’s quick actions, the [victim] would have sustained severe injuries or potential death,” Capt. Schurek said. “This type of bravery and public service is what defines all of us as law enforcement professionals.”

Mr. Breitwieser also received the Kiwanis Club’s Howard Stock Memorial Award, which is given to the East End’s top officer, as determined by members.

Other Officer of the Year recipients included Det. Sergeant Jack Thilberg from Shelter Island Town; officers Ryan Springer and William Brewer from Southold Town; Suffolk County court officer Joseph Ottaviano; Suffolk deputy sheriff Brenda Orejuela; Suffolk County corrections officer Warden Michael Franchi; and New York State trooper Robert Lynch.

The awards, given to officers in all East End departments, have been presented annually for 46 years by the Kiwanis Club. Officers of the Year are selected by leaders from the respective departments.

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