Featured Story

After suffering serious injuries in 2020 crash, Riverhead officer faced long, challenging road back to duty

About 20 months after a horrific accident while on duty, Riverhead police officer Rob Sproston is back: back on the police force, back in the fire department, even back in the U.S. Marines.

But it hasn’t been easy, although he’s kept a positive attitude. 

“The whole scenario hasn’t been fun, but from where I am now — if I look back at all the pictures of how I was then — I’m so blessed,” said Mr. Sproston, 29, who came within inches of his life in the wake of a March 31, 2020, accident in his patrol car. 

He’s been back on the force since July 1, doing light duty, often signing people into Town Hall or answering phones. 

He’s also back to answering calls as a volunteer for the Riverhead Fire Department — he responded to the tragic fire on Second Street last week, and he is back with the U.S. Marine reserves, where he received a promotion from corporal to sergeant. 

It’s been a long road.

Mr. Sproston was responding to an ongoing pursuit on that March afternoon in the early days of the pandemic that first arrived on the East End in Greenport. He was heading north on Osborn Avenue in Calverton, near Youngs Avenue, with his emergency lights flashing. There, he was involved in a collision with another northbound vehicle that was turning onto Youngs Avenue. 

Mr. Sproston’s police car went off the road and into a chain-link fence. A pole at the top of the fence when through Mr. Sproston’s cheek and came out the other side. He lost six teeth in the process and his jaw was shattered. 

The accident is still a blur in his memory. 

“I was out cold when I got hit by the pipe,” he said. “I was out from that point on for almost three weeks.” 

After spending a month in Stony Brook University Hospital, including time in a medically induced coma, he then spent three weeks in St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson for rehabilitation. 

“For about three weeks, I was learning to walk again,” he said in an interview. 

His weight dropped from 158 to 120 while he was hospitalized.

On the day of the crash, Mr. Sproston was taken to Peconic Bay Medical Center where he was stabilized, and then airlifted to Stony Brook.

A Suffolk County police motorcade leads the escort for Riverhead officer Robert Sproston in May 2020. (Credit: Joe Werkmeister)

“It only takes a helicopter about eight minutes to get from Riverhead to Stony Brook,” said William Sproston Sr., Rob’s grandfather. “Those birds crank.” 

“They told us that the first 48 hours were the most critical after the surgery,” William Sr. said. “The doctors where amazing. The surgery lasted from 7:30 at night until 5:30 in the morning.” 

Last Thursday, Mr. Sproston met three of the members of the PBMC team that stabilized him following the accident, including a trauma surgeon who found an airway to allow him to breathe. 

“I have so much faith and trust in these surgeons that whatever they want to do, I’m just along for the ride,” Mr. Sproston said. 

The accident wasn’t easy on his family. 

“We were devastated,” said William Sr., describing the moments when they learned of the accident. “There’s no way to know what the outcome is going to be.”

Rob’s father, Bill, is a member of the Riverhead Fire Department and he responded to the collision that March afternoon. 

“I was on the firetruck, but I didn’t know it was Rob at the time of the accident,” he said. 

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

“The chief pulled me aside and told me it was Robert. I said ‘I want to see him’ and he said, ‘You don’t want to see him, he’s not doing too good. He’s in bad shape right now.’ ”

Bill Sproston said he was “in shock more than anything” at the time. 

Rob Sproston pictured with his grandfather, William Sproston Sr. (Credit: Courtesy photo)

“All I was thinking was that I may not have a son in a little while,” Bill Sproston said. 

But since then, “his recovery has been very good,” he said. “He’s still healing. But he wouldn’t be having this conversation eight months ago.”

On May 15, 2020, Mr. Sproston left Saint Charles Rehab Center and was brought home. He received a hero’s welcome, with police motorcycles, fire trucks and ambulances from numerous departments and even an aerial display with a C-130 and two helicopters from the Air National Guard’s 106th Rescue Wing flying overhead.

“I had a parade coming home,” he said. “I was in the East Quogue ambulance.” One of his close friends is a member of the East Quogue fire department, he said. 

He said he wasn’t able to see that much from the ambulance, but he’s since seen the many pictures and videos from the event. 

His previous fire department unit, Rocky Point, also participated in the parade.

Mr. Sproston said he knows everybody in Town Hall now. He’s often the first person residents see when they walk in the building. He hopes to get back to full-time duty. 

“Everyone has welcomed me with open arms,” he said. In some cases, he has been welcomed back by people he doesn’t even know. 

He said he was working in Town Hall when a “big guy” told him, “I’ve heard about your story and I’ve been praying for you.”

Mr. Sproston said he didn’t know the man and finally asked him who he is.

“He said, ‘You arrested me.’ The fact that I get treatment like that from someone I arrested just shows that I’m doing something right.”

He has at least one more surgery coming up with a plastic surgeon. He said his nose has to be straightened out as well. 

He still has a scar on the right side of his face. He jokes, “I like the scar. It looks cool.”