On the night of October 12th, 2008, Officer Tonkin, who was assigned to the department’s Second District, received an emergency call at approximately 8:55 p.m. An SUV had slipped off a boat ramp at the Billy Joel Park in Cold Spring Harbor. When he arrived at the scene, Officer Tonkin witnessed Scott Kitograd, an off-duty Advanced Emergency Medical Technician (AEMT), in a dingy, approaching the submerged vehicle. The SUV was head-first in the water with only inches of the roof and back window visible. A bystander informed Officer Tonkin that there was a man trapped inside the vehicle.
After securing his gun belt in his cruiser, Officer Tonkin secured his expandable baton in his uniform pocket, and without regard for his own safety, swam more than 60 feet to the partially submerged SUV. The vehicle was afloat in the water and Officer Tonkin was unable to touch bottom. He gained leverage by holding onto the roof rack, and then used his expandable baton to break the back window. The force of the water that gushed into the vehicle pushed the victim further away from the window and caused the SUV to sink further into the icy waters.
With the SUV now completely submerged, Officer Tonkin dove underneath the water reaching into the vehicle to rescue the semi-conscious driver. As he pulled the victim from the vehicle, the gentleman’s weight forced Officer Tonkin further underwater. In order to regain his composure, Officer Tonkin pushed off the victim in an attempt to reach the bottom, but was unable to, due to the water’s depth. While swimming back through the murky water to the surface, Officer Tonkin hit his face against the side of the SUV.
When Officer Tonkin re-surfaced, he found that AEMT Scott Kitograd had been able to grasp the victim’s wrist and was attempting to pull him into the dingy. After multiple attempts were made to get the victim into the dingy, Officer Tonkin and Kitograd secured the gentleman’s head, arm, and shoulder above the water over the side of the dingy. Officer Tonkin then held the victim and swam as Kitograd held the victim’s wrist with one arm and paddled with his other. When they reached the boat ramp, other officers were on-hand to assist. The victim was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, while Officer Tonkin was treated for lacerations from the broken glass and for a broken tooth.
Two weeks later, on October 26th, 2008, Officer Tonkin returned to duty only to be tested once again. On his first shift back, Officer Tonkin, along with Officer Mark Collins, responded to a house fire call. Arriving at the home, they were alerted by neighbors that a disabled man was trapped inside. Officers Tonkin and Collins immediately broke a window and entered the burning home. They were able to locate the disabled man on his bed and pass him through a window to fellow officers waiting outside. Several officers, including Officer Tonkin and Officer Collins, were treated for smoke inhalation.
Inspector Joseph Blaettler, Commanding Officer for the Second District of the Suffolk County Police Department, wrote, “In my opinion, Tim is an excellent example of someone unquestionably devoted to the police mission and the protection of the public he is sworn to serve.” With more than a dozen awards and commendations throughout his 16-year career as a law enforcement officer, Officer Timothy Tonkin is truly a valuable asset to the Suffolk County Police Department, and to the community he has sworn to protect.
Located in the nation’s capital, the NLEOMF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to honoring the service and sacrifice of America’s law enforcement officers. The NLEOMF Officer of the Month Program began in September 1996 and recognizes federal, state and local officers who distinguish themselves through exemplary law enforcement service and devotion to duty.