Bay Shore family thanks officers, lifeguard for rescue
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Bria Key was swimming with her friends in the ocean off Robert Moses State Park when the Bay Shore teen suddenly realized she was in serious trouble.
"We all went in and we were having fun, and then there was just one moment where everything stopped and I realized my feet weren't touching the ground," Key, 17, recalled.
"I tried to swim but I couldn't move, and then I realized I was going down . . . ," she said. "I felt like I was just going to die . . . It was just black."
Hugs and tears filled Key's home Friday as she and her family personally thanked the off-duty lifeguard and rookie state park police officer who teamed to pull her, unconscious, from the dangerous surf a week ago.
"Thank you, thank you. You saved my baby, my only child," Tanessa Russell, 37, said as she hugged the lifeguard, Ryan Mathia, 20, of Smithtown.
Mathia and Officer Nathan Sibenik -- less than a month out of the training academy -- dove into the ocean that afternoon to make the rescue.
Sibenik's training officer, Jessica Bottega, waded knee-deep in the surf to help pull Key and other teens ashore while holding onto Sibenik's gun belt and equipment.
Key and several of her friends from Bay Shore High School were swimming May 31 in an area that was not open for swimming.
"We kind of knew there weren't lifeguards on duty," Key admitted Friday.
Two people on the beach saw the swimmers struggling about 4:45 p.m. off Field 2 and notified Sibenik and Bottega, who were in their vehicle nearby. "I happened to be at the right place at the right time," said Sibenik, 28, a Buffalo native.
Mathia, who grew up on Long Island, was with a group of friends and about to go home when he heard the commotion and ran to help. Key was unconscious when he got to her, out past where the waves were breaking. With help from Sibenik, he got her to shore.
Key was airlifted to Stony Brook University Hospital, where she remained for several days. Two of her Bay Shore friends, Kevin Palomino and Cheyenne Costales, both 18, were treated and released from Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center in West Islip.
After the hugs and tears Friday, Mathia and Sibenik sat on the couch and recounted the rescue.
"I got out the water and I was exhausted," the lifeguard said. "I saw this guy [Sibenik] on his hands and knees on the sand, and I said, 'That looks like a good idea.' "