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Riverhead officer injured in crash receives hero’s welcome home

Fire engines, ambulances and even some military vehicles lined Riley Avenue in Calverton Friday afternoon. A large American flag hung from two fire trucks on Twomey Avenue.

Just before 1 p.m., the sirens blared from dozens of vehicles as a Suffolk County police motorcade led an escort for Riverhead police officer Robert Sproston as he arrived home after more than six weeks of recovery at a hospital and rehab facility.

Firefighters, fellow officers and friends cheered as the parade passed en route to Robert’s home, where he’ll continue the next phase of rehab as part of his long recovery.

Robert, 28, who is a member of the Riverhead Fire Department’s Redbird Hook & Ladder Company, was seriously injured in a March 31 crash while responding to a report of a vehicle fleeing westbound from Greenport following a burglary. He was driving north in a marked police car with emergency lights activated on Osborn Avenue and collided with another car near the intersection of Youngs Avenue, causing the police car to go off the road and into a fence. The driver who led that police pursuit has since been arrested.

Mr. Sproston’s father, Bill, who’s also a volunteer firefighter in Riverhead, posted updates on his son’s condition during the hospital and rehab stays on a GoFundMe page created shortly after the late March crash.

“The hardest part through all of this is not being able to visit him due to COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic and hoping he understands why we aren’t by his side and that it’s not by our choice,” Bill Sproston posted May 6.

On April 24, Robert Sproston received a police and fire escort from Stony Brook University Hospital to St. Charles Rehabilitation Center, a top facility for patients recovering from traumatic brain injuries.

He underwent two major surgeries at Stony Brook, the first shortly after the crash and most recently a procedure April 14 to fix an orbital fracture around his right eye. The next day, his father wrote how relieved the family was to hear from the doctor that the surgery went well. Doctors spent five hours in the operating room and it took eight hours total from the time he left his room until he returned to the ICU.

Robert arrived home Friday for the first time since suffering serious injuries in a late March crash while in the line of duty. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)

Robert will still need to undergo cosmetic surgery to fix his lip and teeth.

By late April, Robert began sitting up in his chair and could stand with full assistance for 10-15 seconds, his father wrote.

“It’s baby steps like this he needs to keep taking to continue to make a strong comeback,” Bill wrote. “He’s more alert now and getting more consistent with following commands upon his assessments such as look left/right, nod your head yes/no, give me a thumbs up, give me a high five, wave to me, lift your left/right leg.”

While he continued to gain strength each day, he also is easily tired.

Four weeks after the crash, as he began recovering at St. Charles, Robert walked across his room and down the hall to physical therapy session with assistance of a walker. He later wrote on an iPad: “When am I going home?”

Two weeks into the rehab, Robert made “tremendous progress” as his “strength, reflexes, fine and gross motor skills” began coming along.

Friends held signs welcoming Robert home. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)

“We are starting to see some of Robert’s personality shine through as well,” Mr. Sproston wrote.

Last week, Robert had his jaw unwired which allows him to begin speech therapy and working his jaw muscles again since they weren’t in use for six weeks.

“Robert has continued to show his determination and perseverance of what a true hero he is,” his father wrote.