Riverhad Free Library security officer James Purcell and Calverton resident Lyn Tyler when they met at the library last night for the first time since he helped rescue her after an auto accident in September. Photo: Denise Civiletti

A security officer at Riverhead Free Library was honored by library trustees last night for his quick action that helped save a woman involved in a car accident in Baiting Hollow in September.

James Purcell, a retired New York City police officer was hitting golf balls on the practice range at Baiting Hollow Club when he saw a utility pole in the distance snap. From his vantage point, he said, he couldn’t see what happened but he knew it wasn’t good. Purcell hopped in a golf cart and drove to the scene on Warner Drive where he found an overturned vehicle that had crashed through the pole, he said.

Purcell checked the driver, assessed the situation, looking for a sign that the car might erupt in flames and quickly dialed 911. He stayed with the driver and talked to her while they waited for emergency responders to arrive.

The driver, Lyn Tyler of Calverton, was not seriously injured in the crash.

Tyler came to the library last night for the trustees’ presentation to Purcell. It was the first time since the accident that the two met.

“He’s my hero,” Tyler said.

Tyler said she had a cup of tea in the car that day and it fell onto the floor on the passenger side of the vehicle. She reached down to get it when she looked up again she saw her car entered the oncoming lane. Frightened, she turned the wheel too hard and caused the car to overturn. It slid into a utility pole, she said.

“It all happened so fast,” Tyler said. “And almost right away, he was at my window,” Tyler said. His presence, talking to her while she waited for rescue crews to arrive, really calmed her down, she said.

Library trustees president Louise Wilkinson, center, presented security officer James Purcell with a certificate last night for his action helping accident victim Lyn Tyler, right. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Purcell played down what he did. “It was really nothing,” he said. Twenty years as a cop in Manhattan put him a many other more difficult situations. He retired from NYPD 11 years ago, deeply affected by the events of Sept. 11.

A few days after the accident, Liz Stokes, director of patron services at the library, heard about what Purcell had done. He didn’t know the identity of the woman in the accident and Stokes didn’t know it was her friend. Soon after, she happened to be speaking to a mutual friend, former trustee Thelma Booker.

“I asked how Lyn was, since I hadn’t seen her in a while and I was wondering how she was doing as the new president of the auxiliary at Peconic Bay Medical Center,” Stokes said. “Thelma told me about the accident and what a Good Samaritan had done,” Stokes said. “She didn’t know who it was. And I said, I know who it is! It’s Jimmy Purcell, our new security guard.”

Stokes said she asked the board to recognize Purcell. “He’s a great example of what a fine security department we have at the library,” Stokes said.

Trustees president Louise Wilkinson presented Purcell with a certificate honoring him for “his display of heroism and bravery in our community.”

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.