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Police: Driver dies after vehicle goes into water off Port Jefferson

A vehicle is removed from the water in

A vehicle is removed from the water in Port Jefferson on Monday, Oct. 30, 2017. The occupant died at a hospital, Suffolk County police said. Credit: Stringer News Service

A motorist died Monday night after his vehicle went down a boat ramp and into Long Island Sound off Port Jefferson, Suffolk County police said.

Driver William Whalen, 69, of Lake Grove, was extricated by first responders and taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Whalen’s 1998 Toyota 4Runner was completely submerged when Sixth Precinct officers Brian Christopher and Michael Cappelli jumped into the water to attempt a rescue, police said.

The officers were later taken to a hospital and treated for hypothermia, police said.

Port Jefferson Fire Department First Assistant Chief Brennan Holmes, firefighters Dave Okst and Geoffrey Markson, and personnel with the Setauket Fire Department also went into the water during the rescue attempt.

Witnesses called 911 after seeing the vehicle go down a boat ramp near the intersection of West Broadway Avenue, also known as Route 25A, and Barnum Avenue, police said.

In 2012, an 87-year-old woman died after her car plunged into Port Jefferson Harbor at the same site. Police found her car in the water near the West Broadway and Barnum intersection. Divers removed her body.

Despite the intersection being outside of the jurisdiction of Port Jefferson Village, it has been a concern of Mayor Margot J. Garant. In May, she wrote to the New York State Department of Transportation and requested a traffic signal change.

“You can either go right or left, it’s a marina exit,” she said Tuesday of the intersection as approached on Barnum Avenue, which ends at West Broadway, which parallels the water. “If you go straight, you’re going into the marina.

“We need two arrows, right or left,” Garant continued. Without the directional arrows, motorists will “drive straight into the water. There’s been a history.”

State officials last month agreed to make those changes.

“Based on our study, we will install left turn and right turn traffic signal arrows to the existing traffic signal for the northbound approach to Barnum Avenue at Route 25A,” DOT officials wrote to the mayor in a Sept. 15 letter.

With William Murphy

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