New Jersey State Trooper Jaime Ablett said he was just doing his job when in April, while off-duty, he and a good Samaritan rescued two Marines and a pregnant woman from a submerged vehicle.
The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund in Washington, D.C., decided Ablett went beyond the call of duty in Absecon and made him its August Officer of the Month.
Chris Burgos, president of the New Jersey State Troopers Fraternal Association, nominated Ablett for the national award.
In the nomination, Burgos wrote, "Ablett's actions exemplify the finest qualities of the law enforcement profession and the New Jersey State Police." Burgos said the fact the rescue occurred while Ablett was off-duty further highlights those qualities.
Ablett, 35, who is in his 11th year as a trooper, said he was surprised when he received the message from Burgos that he would be receiving the award, because he wasn't expecting anything for doing his job.
Just after 5 p.m. April 7, Ablett was driving his police car westbound on Route 30 after finishing his shift at the State Police Marine Station in Atlantic City.
"Being a trooper, I'm always looking around, and I am pretty observant, so that's how I observed the accident that day. I looked across the road, and I saw the tires sticking out of the water," Ablett said.
The vehicle was upside down and almost completely submerged in a retention pond across from the Absecon Home Depot store on Route 30. The driver, Bryan Marticorena, 19, of Atlantic City, was in the water screaming for help.
Ablett said he called dispatch to send emergency medical assistance and Absecon Fire Department to the scene. Then Ablett jumped in the cold water with bystander Luis Roselli.
"I still had my gun and all of my gear on, and I just jumped in the water (in the) middle of the retention pond about 5 to 6 feet deep back end just deep enough to where tires were the only sticking out. It was a nice day, so luckily the windows were down so it would make it easier to do the rescue," he said.
Ablett said he has completed rescues before but not of this magnitude, where a car was submerged and the water was frigid.
Ablett and Roselli were able to get into the submerged vehicle and pull two men who were wearing Marine camouflage uniforms out of the water to safety. The men, John Taylor, 19, and James Taylor, 22, both of Atlantic City, were unresponsive but regained consciousness soon after they were pulled from the water.
"With the two Marines, the first victim was blue when I pulled him out. I had this guy in my arms and I thought he was dead," Ablett said. "When I got him out and put him down, as soon as his head hit the grass his eyes opened and he started spitting out water.
"The second Marine was in shock, but coherent. Then they were screaming at us that there was a girl in the car and you have to get her out," he said.
Ablett said he and Roselli returned to the vehicle, where they found Carmen Valdivieso, 21, of Atlantic City, still in her seat belt and unable to unlatch it. Roselli used a knife to cut the seat belt so he and Ablett could pull her out safely.
"I was just doing what I was trained to do. After it was over with and I realized everyone was out the car and they would go home to see their families, it was a good feeling. You don't think about what you have to do on this job, but when you really impact someone's life you realize," Ablett said.
Col. Rick Fuentes, superintendent of the New Jersey State Police, said Friday that Ablett's actions are another example of the heroic deeds troopers perform daily across the state.
"Ablett risked his personal safety to help rescue three people, including a pregnant woman. This prestigious award is recognition of Trooper Ablett's commitment and dedication to the citizens of New Jersey," Fuentes said.
Ablett and other Officer of the Month winners will be honored in Washington, D.C., during National Police Week in May.
Contact Donna Weaver:
@DonnaKWeaver on Twitter