A Queens man who drowned in a pond in Noyack over the weekend pushed his girlfriend to safety moments before he went underwater, relatives said Sunday.
Tyreef Benston, 26, was hanging onto his girlfriend's neck while they were wading in what they thought was shallow water about 5 p.m. Saturday in Trout Pond in the Southampton community, authorities and family said.
When Abigail Torres, 17, of Wyandanch stepped into deeper water -- a "hole," as she described it -- she lost her footing and started sinking. Neither could swim, said family members. Benston then let go of Torres, pushed her to the shore and floated away with the current.
Torres screamed for help, but by the time family members and onlookers dove in, Benston had vanished, witnesses and police said. His body was later discovered by rescue workers from the Sag Harbor Fire Department dive team, authorities said.
"I couldn't do anything for him. I was panicking because I wanted to help," Torres said in an interview Sunday. "If I would've known how to swim, I would've helped him."
Dive teams from the Sag Harbor and North Sea fire departments and the Southampton Town Police responded to 911 calls from family members and beachgoers, police said.
Sunday, at the home of Benston's aunt April Smith, 50, in Jamaica, Queens, family members tried to make sense of Saturday's tragedy.
"He didn't deserve to die like this, in a freak accident," said Smith, who raised him. "That's all it was."
She said she was still trying to arrange his funeral.
Trout Pond, run by the Southampton Town Parks and Recreation Department, is not watched by lifeguards. Signs warn swimmers to enter at their own risk. Benston's body was found in water 11 feet deep, about 17 feet from the boardwalk.
Family members remembered Benston as quiet and generous. He was an avid Jets fan, they said.
At his girlfriend's home, where he lived for the past six months with her and her parents, he was practically a part of the family. He called her father, William Torres, 46, "Papa."
Abigail Torres remembers cuddling with him while he played video games. "He was a sweet person. Whenever I was sick, he'd be worried," she said. "He took care of me like my mother would."
The couple first met after Benston pursued her on Facebook. At first, she ignored his messages. But his efforts and charm wore her down. "He caught me one day," Abigail Torres remembered.
His cousin Corey, 33, also enjoyed the time he spent with Benston. "He was funny, outspoken," Corey said, adding that Benston enjoyed listening to 50 Cent, Eminem and the disc jockey Max Beat.
"He's a people's person. He brings energy to the crowd and makes people want to be around him," Corey said. "I'll miss the fact that I'll never be able to talk to him again."