Hopewell, NJ – Three Hopewell police officers were carried away by raging floodwaters last week as the remnants of Hurricane Ida dropped torrential rain across the area.
The incident began at approximately 8:30 p.m. on Sept. 1, when Hopewell Police Officer James Hoffman responded to an area on Route 518 east of Route 31 for a report of a vehicle stuck in the floodwater, NJ.com reported.
Within moments of his arrival, water began pouring into his patrol unit and his car began to slide out of his control into deeper water.
Officer Hoffman, a 24-year department veteran, scrambled out of his heavy ballistic vest and bailed out of the cruiser through an open window, NJ.com reported.
He was able to swim to a nearby tree and grabbed onto it as two more officers responded to his distress call.
But when Hopewell Officer Robert Voorhees and Officer Michael Makwinski arrived at the scene to help him, their patrol vehicles also ended up being swept away by the raging water, NJ.com reported.
Both officers were able to get out of their vehicles and anchored themselves using nearby trees as Officer Hoffman had done, Hopewell Township Police Director Bob Karmazin told the paper the next morning.
The three officers struggled to hang on for nearly two hours, losing radio communications with the search and rescue teams that were desperately trying to find them.
Director Karmazin said the teams didn’t even know if the three officers were still alive or if they had been swept even further downstream, NJ.com reported.
The three officers eventually fired their duty pistols to help the first responders pinpoint their locations.
A Hamilton Fire Department (HFD) crew was able to hone in on their locations and rescued them using boats.
HFD Battalion Chief Tim Sharpley said the rescue was a joint effort by multiple agencies, to include the Lawrenceville Fire Company and the Union Fire Company.
Other than being drenched and exhausted, the three officers were uninjured, Director Karmazin told NJ.com.
They were all transported to a hospital and medically cleared.
Officer Voorhees has been with the Hopewell Police Department (HPD) for 12 years, NJ.com reported.
Officer Makwinski is a five-year veteran of the HPD.
Director Karmazin said the officers ended up in a perilous situation because the selflessly put aside their own safety in an effort to help others.
Their actions were heroic, he said.
“They had a total disregard for their own safety, and we’re very lucky they were able to hold on the way they did,” the director told NJ.com. “Everyone is okay now and they’re back home resting.”
He also praised the first responders who risked their lives to save the three stranded officers.
“We owe them a debt of gratitude,” Director Karmazin said.
“Everyone did a fantastic job,” Chief Sharpley said of the multiagency rescue effort. “We got the officers back and they get to be with their families, and that’s a good thing.”
Director Karmazin said the rescue effort was one of approximately 50 similar calls for help area first responders handled during the storm, NJ.com reported.
Two people lost their lives, Hopewell Township confirmed in a Facebook post on Sept. 2.