Two local heroes are being recognized at this year’s Heidi’s Helping Angels event – one for training hundreds of thousands of EMTs in Suffolk County and his service to the Wading River Fire District, and another for his quick thinking earlier this year that saved the life of a local man in a car crash in Riverhead.
Joseph Oliver, a Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps member and ex-chief, was off-duty when he happened across a car wreck on Route 105 in April. It was about midnight, and he was returning to his campsite at Indian Island County Park after the corps’ annual installation dinner with his wife, Tammy Oliver, and his friend Nicole Murcot, a Flanders Ambulance volunteer.
As they were driving, Oliver noticed a car bumper in the roadway and then a trail of smoke coming from the woods. Upon further investigation, they found it was coming from a Camaro overturned on its roof in the trees near the park’s entrance.
“At first I didn’t even recognize what it was,” Oliver recalled in an interview today. “And then it all started to come together.”
Immediately, Oliver and Murcot both sprang into action. A woman had emerged from the smoking vehicle, but the driver was still inside. Grabbing his medic bag from his truck, Oliver ran to the wreck and pulled the driver to safety, fearful that the car might go up in flames. As his wife called the police, Oliver tended to the driver, who was bleeding profusely from his forehead.
“I just remember seeing blood everywhere,” Oliver said. “The cut was down to his skull.”
As he did everything he could to stop the bleeding, Oliver also radioed the county to ask for aviation to transport the man to Stony Brook.
The driver – Nick Soullas of Jamesport – survived the accident thanks to Oliver’s intervention. “I’m lucky to be alive and so grateful,” Soullas said after the accident. “He saved my life.”
“His car was completely in the trees when we found it,” Oliver said. “You could barely make it out. There’s no doubt in my mind that if we weren’t going to Indian Island that night, he definitely would have bled to death.”
But though Oliver is being honored for his quick thinking that day, he says it is the event’s other honoree, Tom Lateulere, who is responsible for Oliver’s save that night and every other night to boot.
Lateulere, who passed away in June at age 53, was the chief of training and education for Suffolk County Emergency Medical Services. In addition to Oliver, Lateulere trained hundreds of thousands of other EMTs in Suffolk County.
“You are not going to find anyone in Suffolk County EMS who was not trained by Tom Lateulere,” Oliver said.
A 35-year member of the Wading River Fire Department, Lateulere also served as district commissioner and chief.
“I don’t think that me being honored alongside Tom is even appropriate,” Oliver said. “What I did is what he trained me to do. Tom changed the lives of countless, countless people through training so many EMTs.”
The awards are given by Heidi’s Helping Angels, a not-for-profit organization that was formed following the death of Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps member Heidi Behr. They will be presented on Thursday, Oct. 6 at Riverhead Polish Hall at the organization’s annual fundraising dinner to benefit its scholarship fund.
“We look to honor people who exemplify community service, because that’s how Heidi lived her life,” said Ron Schmitt, president of the group.
Heidi Behr, an EMT with Riverhead Volunteer Ambulance Corps, was killed in the line of duty as she attended to a patient aboard an ambulance that was involved in an accident in May 2005. She was only 23. Her infant son Jared has special needs and was left to the care of her parents, June and John Behr.
Oliver had just joined the ambulance corps when the accident happened. He remembers arriving on the scene, unaware that a Riverhead ambulance had been involved in the crash, and realizing that Heidi had been fatally injured.
“I remember watching them do CPR on her,” he said. It was something he will never forget.
Behr was “like a family member” to everyone in the ambulance corps, he said. “She was such good friends with so many people – Donna Lane, Kristen Klug, Jen Kelly, Kim Pokorny – wherever Heidi was, they were there,” Oliver said. “After she passed, it changed everything.”
He believes Behr would be proud of the good work Heidi’s Helping Angels has done in her memory. “Heidi’s Helping Angels has helped out quite a few people,” he said. “I think she’d be really happy about the fact that her name is living on this way.
“It’s all about people helping other people and making a difference in people’s lives – and that’s exactly what Heidi did.”
Tickets for the Oct. 6 awards dinner, at $35 per person, may be purchased by calling Schmitt at 631-722-4944 or Charles Thomas at 631-722-4348. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. Dinner will be served at 7. The ticket price includes a full roast beef dinner. Cash bar. Seating is limited to 300 guests.
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