At about 2130 hours on Thursday, March 11, Investigator John Moakley, assigned to the Special Investigations Division of the Triborough Bridge & Tunnel Authority, was off duty in his private auto, returning from dinner on City Island, when he came upon a one-car motor vehicle collision, off the road, into a wooded area of Pelham Bay Park,. Debris was still airborne, indicating that the incident had just occurred. Investigator Moakley, and another, unidentified, motorist stopped immediately, and investigated. A small fire was smoldering under the hood, and the driver could be heard calling out from within. Investigator Moakley was in business attire, without the aid of protective clothing or specialized tools, but did have a personal multi-tool on his belt. After a brief assessment of the scene, Investigator Moakley determined that this was likely a “pin job,” requiring specialized extrication equipment, and that the fire was starting to grow. The other motorist called 911, while Investigator Moakley called the FDNY Bronx Communications Office direct, advising of the initial, and ever-worsening, circumstances. Other motorists had begun to stop their vehicles and gather around, a few looking to render aid, but not knowing what to do. Investigator Moakley opened the left rear door, and performed a brief visual assessment of the occupants and condition of the vehicle exterior. At the same time, the fire under the hood continued to grow, threatening to extend to the passenger compartment and to the woods as well. Deciding that waiting for on-duty personnel to arrive was no longer a viable option, Investigator Moakley used his multi-tool to poke a hole in, and then clear the frame of, the driver’s door window, directing the driver to turn her head away from the breaking glass. Now having added leverage, and a fire threat still growing only a foot or so away, Investigator Moakley reached inside the door, and pulled it open, discovering the driver, in her crushed seat. With the aid of an unidentified male, Investigator Moakley held the seat back release up, while directing the other male to gently pull the seat back towards the rear, then used a blade from the multi-tool to cut the seatbelt. After another brief assessment of the fire condition, Investigator Moakley and the other male removed the driver from the seat, carrying her to a location behind the vehicle, safely away and downwind from the vehicle and fire.
As the conditions worsened, and after seeing a male back seat passenger, and being provided information that a female front seat passenger may also be present, Investigator Moakley stood between the forward end of the vehicle, while two unidentified males removed the apparently unconscious male from the back seat, then guided the males with the passenger in hand, back and away from the vehicle, near the driver.
Investigator Moakley returned to the vehicle, this time to the front passenger’s door, to check for the female passenger believed to be in the front seat. After opening this door, Investigator Moakley cut the deployed airbag, seeking a seatbelt to cut. Shortly thereafter, two unidentified males appeared at the door and in a position to aid in the removal of this last occupant. Investigator Moakley and these two males pried the seat back towards the rear compartment, as it had been crushed forward during the impact, then removed the remaining occupant, out of the vehicle, up and out of the wooded area, and to the roadway, then back and away from the vehicle. No sooner had this last passenger been placed down, two small explosions erupted in the engine compartment, followed by a large body of flames, which started to engulf the area, where moments before, he and the others had been standing, and the remaining passenger had been seated, trapped in the car.
Investigator Moakley remained on the scene, providing valuable information to the responding investigating members of the NYPD, and then left the scene when his assistance was no longer required. Unfortunately the front seat passenger died at the scene; the driver and back seat passenger are recovering from their injuries at an area hospital.
Due to the quick and decisive actions taken by John Moakley several lives were saved. His utilization of limited resources, knowledge in assessing the present danger to the occupants and extrication of the occupants were essential in the successful rescue of the victims. He knowingly placed himself in grave danger, in order to save others.
Investigator Moakley is an Ex-Captain of Hook & Ladder Company #1 of the Elmont Fire Department, and is a retired NYPD Sergeant, and an Executive Board member of FOP Lodge 317. He was appointed to the New York City Transit Police Department in 1981, and was promoted to sergeant in 1994. After retiring from the NYPD, and while waiting for appointment to the TBTA, he served as a part-time seasonal police officer with the New York State Park Police, Long Island Region, where he participated in the rescue and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center site after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.