Nassau County police Deputy Insp. Darin Costello could see the headlights approaching from behind at a high speed. He took his foot off the brake and cut the wheel to the right but it was too late.
Just days before Christmas 2016, Costello's off-duty vehicle was smashed from behind — the impact so severe that it killed the other driver and forced the now 16-year department veteran's car into a building.
"As I lay there helplessly with my thoughts and a broken neck and lower back it was the sounds of the sirens of the Suffolk County Police Department that brought me a brief moment of comfort," Costello recalled Thursday as he and three other Long Island officers received the Theodore Roosevelt Association Police Award, presented to officers nationwide who overcame physical challenges or disabilities. Roosevelt himself overcame debilitating asthma as a child.
The crash couldn't have come at a worse time. Costello was two days away from closing on a new home and his wife, expecting their fourth child, was facing serious medical issues that could risk the health of the baby and had been instructed to avoid stress.
Costello's injuries required surgery and months of physical therapy. And yet he had just one goal: to get back in uniform — a goal he accomplished less than a year after the crash.
"As he went through therapy, all Darin would say is 'I want to come back to work,' " said Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder.
Thursday's ceremony at Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay, the summer home of the 26th president, honored the 2020 and 2021 Police Award recipients after last year's ceremony was canceled because of the pandemic.
The winners also received a bust of Roosevelt while a $1,000 donation was made to a charity of their choice.
Suffolk Police Officer Dennis Hendrickson also narrowly escaped death when he was struck by a drunken driver on the Long Island Expressway in March 2015. Hendrickson suffered severe injuries to his right hand, wrist, arm, shoulder, neck and both knees, requiring multiple surgeries.
Yet four months after he was hit, Hendrickson returned to active duty, first in the Police Academy and later in the Emergency Management and Homeland Security bureaus before his retirement earlier this year.
"You couldn't keep Dennis down," said acting Suffolk Police Commissioner Stuart Cameron. "You could not keep him home."
Hendrickson called it a "gift" that he lived to tell his story.
"What happened to me could happen to any one of us," he said.
Nassau Deputy Chief James Bartscherer overcame a trifecta of health scares, all while continuing to serve.
In 2010, Bartscherer collapsed at a police memorial because of a heart defect that required surgery. He collapsed again in 2018 at National Night Out in Elmont because of a serious digestive system blockage, only to return months later to graduate from the FBI National Academy.
The following year he was diagnosed with bladder cancer. After several rounds of chemotherapy proved unsuccessful, Bartscherer's bladder was removed. He returned to command the Fifth Precinct six months after his diagnosis.
"Law enforcement is a profession that attracts people … who are completely selfless and they are looking to make society better," Bartscherer said. "I have always been proud to be part of law enforcement. And it's overwhelming to be part of this selflessness."
Suffolk Det. Sgt. James Cerone had never taken a sick day until he was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in a leg muscle in 2009. He had the tumor removed but the disease resurfaced in 2018 and Cerone was diagnosed with myxoid liposarcoma, an aggressive cancer of the soft tissue.
Cerone, a former pharmacist, would beat the cancer a second time, and play a critical role in the department's COVID-19 vaccine distribution program.
On Thursday, Cerone noted that the award was one he never wanted to win.
"Being the recipient of this is bittersweet," Cerone said. "But it just goes to show, and is proof for all of us, that we've thus far come out on top from all of the hurdles."