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Teens rescued from capsized boat on Lake Ronkonkoma, cops say

On Wednesday, April 12, 2017, when he heard three kids calling for help after they overturned their canoe, Jeff Miller of Lake Ronkonoma rode out on his boat to rescue them and bring them to shore.  Credit: James Carbone

Three teenage boys toppled into chilly Lake Ronkonkoma when their canoe overturned Wednesday afternoon, but they were saved by a waterfront resident who rowed to their rescue, authorities said.

The trio did not have life jackets on when they fell into the water about 3:20 p.m., Suffolk police said.

Jeff Miller, 60, said he was working in his yard about 50 feet from the lake when he heard repeated cries of “Help,” so he rushed inside to get his spotting scope.

“I could see the boat was completely under,” Miller said. “They were hanging on to the boat; it was upside down and had an air pocket in it and stayed floating. You could see their heads and they were flailing their arms around.”

While most of the lake is less than 15 feet deep, portions of it are as deep as 65 feet, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Hefting his 8-foot rowboat — which he said he keeps outside for just this type of situation — Miller ran across an adjacent park to the lake’s shore.

Rowing hard for about 10 minutes, he arrived to a chorus of ‘thank yous’ from the teenagers, who were clinging to their capsized canoe, cellphones in hand.

“They were hanging on, but they were cold,” he said. “I told them to grab the back of the boat and I started rowing back to shore.”

Miller said he feared boarding three passengers would overturn his small boat, but he pulled all three on board anyway.

The unidentified teens — a 17-year-old and two 14-year-olds — were taken to hospitals to be treated for hypothermia, Suffolk police said.

Eventually, the boat sank, police said.

Miller said one of the boys — the son of a neighbor — told him his companion had stood up on the boat and did a dance, tipping over the boat.

“It’s not something you do in a canoe,” Miller said with a laugh.

Miller’s neighbor, Pat McGarrett, said he had seen the youths carrying the canoe and paddles down the street about 2 p.m.

“Young boys full of energy,” he said.

More than an hour later, when Miller’s wife alerted McGarrett to the distress call, he grabbed some life jackets and paddles to join the rescue effort. McGarrett said he and a Fourth Precinct officer searched one side of the lake, but came back once it was clear the boys had been rescued.

Miller’s deed was part of a larger effort by police, Lakeland firefighters, other residents and a search helicopter.

Having lived on the lake all his life, Miller said he’s made four or five rescues but never as many as three people at once.

“When you live on a lake,” he said, “you kind of watch out for everybody.”


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