A Long Beach police officer responding to a call about a swimmer in distress Wednesday ran his police sport utility vehicle over a sunbather on the beach, city officials said.

The man, Marshall Starkman, 43, of Oceanside, suffered a broken spine and was taken by helicopter to Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, said City Manager Charles Theofan.

According to Theofan, police officer Paul DeMarco struck Starkman as he sat in a lounge chair around noon near Laurelton Boulevard. DeMarco could not be reached Wednesday.

DeMarco declined to make any official statements Westerday, Theofan said.

Starkman, interviewed at Nassau University Medical Center, said he was in "a lot of pain. I'm alive, but in a lot of pain." He described the accident, saying, "I was literally just sitting on my chaise longue on the beach" while talking on the phone and playing the radio.

"Honestly, it hit me out of the blue," he said, adding he heard no sirens or horn. "The only thing I can remember is getting hit. Not knowing what it was. Realizing that I'm alive."

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Starkman, who said he had no information yet from doctors about his condition, recalled sitting far back from the beach, closer to the boardwalk, but near other people. "There were people all around me," he said.

Before the crash, Theofan said, DeMarco had spoken to his daughter, who was at the beach, then made a sharp turn to head east. While he was driving, people began to shout at him, Theofan said. The city asked the Nassau County police accident investigation unit to conduct an independent probe, Theofan said.

The accident happened on a day when steamy weather drove scores of people to the beach - which does not officially open until Saturday - and rough seas created hazardous swimming conditions.

Long Beach emergency personnel rescued roughly 10 swimmers Wednesday, said the city's fire department chief, Scott Kemins. Among those rescued was the swimmer in distress at the time of the accident, officials said.

Signs posted at beach entrances say swimming is prohibited, so those who enter the water do so at their own risk, Theofan said, and lifeguards are not on duty. With Nomaan Merchant