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Sound Tragedy: Four Lives Saved and the Loss of a Brother

As emergency dive crews searched for survivors of a wreck where a boat overturned on the Long Island Sound, some needed a little convincing to be saved.

 

Even when life is at its worst—when everything comes literally crashing down— some people seem to keep their heads about them.

"The guy, he just told the divers if they didn't get him out of there alive, his mother was going to kill them," Deputy Chief Trevor Roach said Monday night. "It was tongue-in-cheek, you know. He reminded them of his mother once he was out and then thanked them. He took five, ten minutes to get out. The girl was a different story. She took a bit longer."

Roach was talking about a pair of boaters trapped in an air-pocket of an near the Stamford Lighthouse to which Stamford Fire Department dive teams responded to late Sunday night. He said, as the first team on the scene, they had to deal with something they'd never really had to face before—a victim who didn't want saving.

"There were a lot of debris, things hanging off the boat. She just did not want to leave the safety of that air bubble," Roach said. "She didn't want to go swimming into that black hole. The boat was upside-down right on the surface, but it was maybe a 20-foot swim through debris and everything else to the surface, to safety. It wasn't a straight shot."

Roach said the conversations between the victims and the rescuers were strange and, psychologically, something for which they can never really practice. Each and every person handles stress and trauma in a different way.

"We've never had to deal with this particular circumstance previously," he said. "We've talked about it before, that it could happen. We've never experienced it."

The pair were just two of the four people initially rescued Sunday night from the waters of Long Island Sound. The other two had been clinging to the bottom of the boat, which was then sticking out of the water, and pulled out by arriving crews. 

Tragically, a fifth member with the group, New Rochelle Firefighter Keith Morris, 31, was lost in the wreck after he was thrown from the vessel. His body would be recovered 13 hours later from roughly 16 feet of water Monday at low tide, meaning he was buried at high tide beneath 25 feet of pitch black water and wreckage Sunday night that impeded rescue efforts.

His body was discovered with assistance from side-scan sonar, authorities said Monday during a press conference.

"The wreckage made entry onto the scene extremely difficult," Roach said. "When we found out we were searching for a firefighter, it pulled at all our heart strings."

The group, all New Rochelle residents, had been at the Stamford waterfront establishment the prior to the accident, and were heading home sometime between 10:30 p.m. and 11 p.m. when the crash occurred.

Authorities said the . Images of the ship being transported after it was pulled from the water showed some pretty severe damage to the front end.

Captain Raul Camejo, of the Connecticut DEEP’s division of state environmental conservation police, confirmed Morris' body was with the Medical Examiner Monday afternoon. Camejo could not confirm Monday whether alcohol was a suspected factor in the crash. An accident reconstruction team was working on putting together everything else.

The firefighter community in New Rochelle turned out in strong numbers Monday to support each other and the Morris family, who were sheltered from the media at a makeshift command post off Harbor Drive, from which authorities had been launching watercraft.

"Keith was an excellent firefighter who lived life to its fullest. He’s going to be sorely missed," said New Rochelle Deputy Chief Robert Benz, who trained Morris as a firefighter. "He was known throughout the department. It’s just a shame."

He said it was never something they were prepared to handle because it's never something you expect to happen here, it always happens somewhere else.

"You read about this all the time and it happens in other places and now something has happened here," he said. "It’s a different world all of sudden. It’s a different feeling we’re not used to."

The New Rochelle Uniformed Fire Fighters Association also responded to the loss of Morris:

The executive board and members of the New Rochelle Uniformed Fire Fighters Association wish to extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to the family of Fire Fighter Keith Morris and the members of Ladder 12 on their loss. Keith was a dedicated and well respected fire fighter who bravely served the people of New Rochelle for nearly eight years.  Keith will be sorely missed by all of his colleagues.

The United States Coast Guard, Connecticut State Police, Greenwich, Darien and Noroton emergency crews all responded last night to assist Stamford at the scene. Central, Woodside and Shippan emergency response crews also had representatives on scene.

  --  New Rochelle Patch Reporter Michael Woyton contributed to this report.

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