Video: NJ cops rescue teen from fiery crash, receive awards
Dramatic bodycam video shows five officers working together to free a 17-year-old from burning wreckage
By Joshua Chung
Asbury Park Press
MARLBORO, N.J. — For 17-year-old Rebecca Kniffin, she is able to walk and live her life today solely because of the heroic actions made by five dedicated township police officers.
On June 15, five police officers saved Kniffin from a burning car after a Cadillac Escalade collided with a GMC Envoy on Conover Road in the township. The collision had pinned Kniffin in the back seat of the Envoy, between the two vehicles.
Without any hesitation, arriving officers Lt. John Loyer, Patrolwoman Donna Gonzalez, and Patrolmen Adam Mattei, Colin Murray and Robert Kelly worked together to save Kniffin before the flames engulfed the car.
Gonzalez and Kelly freed Kniffin by using a patrol vehicle to push the Escalade away from the Envoy. Within moments, the Envoy became engulfed in flames after the officers successfully moved the teen away from the burning vehicle.
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"All we were thinking about in that moment was to get her out safe," Gonzalez said. "Any way we can do that, even if it means willing to put our lives on the line, we're going to do that to protect our community."
For their sacrifice and going beyond the call of duty, all five officers were awarded with a valor award by the 200 Club, the organization's highest commemoration.
A former EMS worker, Jason Foley, was recognized by Mayor Jonathan Hornik for the "selfless actions of a citizen, going an extra mile, and taking action beyond his own welfare, while facing danger, to help a stranger and save a life."
The 200 Club of Monmouth County is a nonprofit organization who provide financial assistance to the families of first responders who die or are seriously injured in the line of duty. This includes, but is not limited to, police officers, firefighters, first aid and EMT technicians of Monmouth County.
"To give an idea of what we do, on Aug. 19 after hearing the sudden passing of Detective April Bird in Asbury Park, the 200 Club delivered a check of $15,000 to her next of kin," said Robert Honecker, president of the club and a former prosecutor in Monmouth County who now works as a defense lawyer. "We also gave a check to the widow of a New Jersey state trooper, who died after decades-long suffering from in-line duty injury."
The award ceremony was presented in front of the township's municipal building Friday evening. Members of the 200 Club, Hornik and families of the awarded officers were all in attendance.
In addition, Kniffin and her family were also in attendance, as they shed a few tears throughout the ceremony and while talking to the officers who saved her life.
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"That day brought tears to our eyes because on that day we didn't know what was going to happen," said Loyer when asked what it meant to see Kniffin standing before them today. "When you're going through something like this, you don't think about anything other than the situation at hand at that moment. At that time, the only thing to think about was saving her life."
Robert Honecker, the president of the 200 Club, said the officers' actions — successfully removing the teen from the burning car, while also providing additional medical attention to save her life — made them deserving recipients of the organization's most prestigious award.
"These officers awarded today are typical of what Marlboro police puts out. We train our officers really well and believe not only are they disciplined officers, but they're intelligent," Marlboro Police Chief Peter Pezzullo said. "Their level of commitment to the community I think is above none other. They make us proud, every day. I'm proud to be their chief."
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After having her ribs crushed and a lung collapse, while going through the window of one of the vehicles during the collision, Kniffin could only thank the officers for helping her survive.
"It's crazy to think about," Kniffin said when asked what it meant to see the officers who helped her that day. "All I can say is thank you for saving me."
Members of the Morganville First Aid Squad, paramedics from Hackensack Meridian Health and firemen from the Morganville Fire Department assisted in the incident.
The 200 Club also donates scholarships to the children of first responders who live and work full-time in Monmouth County. So far this year, the 200 Club has donated over $100,000 in scholarships.
Last week, the organization awarded Manalapan Patrolman Kyle Williams with the valor award after he went above the call of duty to protect the civilians during a shooting in Asbury Park last year. The group also gave the award to Long Branch Cpl. Robert Korn for stopping a man accused of trying to stab his wife to death.
(c)2020 the Asbury Park Press (Neptune, N.J.)