An alleged drunken driver traveling westbound on an eastbound lane of Sunrise Highway Thursday slammed his van into a Suffolk police cruiser that a highway officer had slowed to protect motorists behind him.
Traffic had not yet stopped when the oncoming 2012 Ford van collided with the patrol car of Officer Joseph Verdi just east of Nicolls Road in Patchogue about 3 a.m., police said.
“He essentially took the hit for the traffic behind him,” Acting Police Commissioner Tim Sini said at a news conference at Police Headquarters in Yaphank.
Verdi was hospitalized with minor injuries. The driver of the van, Steven Hennessy, 43, of North Port, Florida, also had minor injuries and was arrested on drunken driving and other charges, Sini said.
A call to 911 at 2:58 a.m. said a vehicle was driving west in the eastbound lanes, police said, and Verdi, patrolling in the area, was dispatched.
“Officer Verdi acted immediately by turning on his lights, conducting what we call a ‘slow roll,’ essentially slowing down his vehicle in front of traffic that was traveling, correctly, eastbound on Sunrise Highway,” Sini said.
In a slow roll, the officer weaves back and forth in lanes of traffic and gradually slows to bring following traffic to a halt.
It is often used on Long Island to halt traffic when police want to back up a truck that has wandered onto a parkway with low bridges.
“The vehicle was approaching at such a fast speed that the vehicle hit the officer prior to him being able to stop all the traffic,” Sini said.
Sini described the impact as “driver’s side to driver’s side,” but said he did not know if Verdi swerved prior to impact.
“Essentially you have a drunken driver coming head-on to traffic, and Officer Verdi put himself between that car, that minivan, and the other motorists, and that is just an unbelievable act of valor and professionalism,” Sini said.
“Here is an individual who literally put his life on the line,” Sini said.
Eastbound Sunrise Highway was closed from about 3:15 a.m. to 5:30 a.m. for an accident investigation, police said.
Hennessy was awaiting arraignment in First District Court in Central Islip on charges of driving while intoxicated, aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, reckless endangerment and reckless assault, police said.
Sini said Hennessy was driving with a suspended license and had prior arrests. He did not have details.
Online court records show Hennessy pleaded guilty in Nassau County in 1993 to a charge of operating a motor vehicle under the influence of drugs or alcohol and was fined $500.