SUFFOLK COUNTY

Emergency lights illuminate distracted driving crisis

Local first responders honor deceased trooper during demonstration

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Bellport’s South Country Ambulance and Sayville’s Community Ambulance Company joined together last Wednesday to extend their condolences to the family of one New York State trooper who died too soon.

State Trooper Joseph Gallagher died last month from injuries he sustained three years ago. Gallagher was assisting a disabled motorist on the Long Island Expressway in Suffolk County when he was struck by a distracted driver from West Islip.

Gallagher was left immobile, unable to eat or talk without assistance.

To honor Gallagher on the same day of his funeral, on April 7, the two Brookhaven and Islip Town agencies gathered at the South Country Ambulance station on Station Road for a moment of silence.

When the clock struck noon, a sea of emergency vehicles outside of the station began flashing red and blue lights to honor Gallagher as he was laid to rest.

“Trooper Gallagher is a hero,” South Country Ambulance chief Gregory Miglino said. “He, like us, was a public servant protecting the public at his time of death.”

The decision to honor Gallagher was initiated by Jamie Atkinson, president of Sayville’s ambulance company. The former Sayville chief contacted Miglino a week prior to the ceremony and discussed starting the new tradition in Suffolk.

“Although we cannot physically be upstate for the burial and funeral of Trooper Gallagher, we wanted to show our support for his family, co-workers and honor his service to our great state,” Atkinson said.

About 16 local service groups participated in the ceremony, including Islipbased Bay Shore-Brightwaters Rescue Ambulance and Exchange Ambulance of the Islips. Private groups, including LI Proliner of Medford and VCI Emergency Vehicle Specialists of Bohemia, took part in the ceremony.

Brookhaven-based groups also joined in, including the Patchogue, Medford,

Mastic, Mastic Beach, Manorville and Port Jefferson ambulance companies, and the Bellport, Brookhaven and Hagerman fire departments.

Switching on the emergency lights for one minute was a “subtle, yet visually symbolic” demonstration of solidarity with Gallagher, Atkinson said.

“It’s nice to see so many EMS, fire departments, public safety agencies and private industries coming together with a goal of mourning the life of a great protector and a person who gave his life for the safety of our community,” Atkinson said.

Miglino said the ceremony also brings attention to the dangers and consequences of distracted driving, associated with Gallagher’s death.

“Trooper Gallagher’s service should never go unnoticed by Americans, citizens of New York, and more importantly, the county of Suffolk that he served,” Miglino said.

April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. According to the National Safety Council, traffic has dropped significantly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, but roads have grown more dangerous due to distracted driving.

Talking on a cell phone, texting and more can divert a driver’s attention. On a typical day, over 700 people are injured in distracted driving crashes, according to NSC. In neighboring Nassau County, officials have heightened police enforcement this month to specifically target distracted drivers.

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