On a Vacation Week With His Family, Lieutenant Rescues Two People From Lake, Awarded Department’s Distinguished Officer Of The Year
The skies were clear, the weather warm, and a gentle breeze hung in the air. Lieutenant Nelson Andreu Jr. and his family and several friends were spending a vacation week at his summer home inside the gated Ocean Village community, just a short walk from the beach in Fort Pierce. It was the perfect day to play golf. He put on a polo shirt, golf pants and golf shoes and headed to the pint-sized course that is embedded in the community’s landscape. He had two golfing partners with him, his 10-year-old son Aiden, and his 10-year-old goddaughter Celeste. The Lieutenant envisioned that they would have lots of fun sprinkled with a little exercise.
What the Lieutenant did not envision that Monday afternoon, June 20, 2022, was that he would rescue an elderly woman from a car submerged in a murky lake along the course. For his quick actions, Lieutenant Andreu has been awarded the Department’s Distinguished Officer of the Year Award, and the Silver Medal of Valor, the Department’s second highest award. He has been with the Department for 24 years, and currently serves in the Police Officer Service Training Unit at the Miami-Dade Public Safety Training Institute & Research Center.
It was a short walk from the summer home to the nine hole golf course. The trio played two holes. On the third putting green, Lieutenant Andreu stood near the hole, holding the flagstick, and gave his young partners some advice on how to perfectly line up their putt. Aiden readied himself for an attempt, but then he abruptly dropped his putter and ran towards his father with a shocked expression on his face. Aiden pointed to a lake approximately 150 yards in the background, and his father turned around to check on what had caused his son so much alarm. A dark-colored SUV had just plunged into the water.
Lieutenant Andreu ran towards the lake, and as he did, he observed that the two front windows of the sinking vehicle were down, but the two rear windows were up. An elderly woman was in the driver’s seat, and there was no front passenger. He wondered if there were occupants in the back seat, because the windows were darkly tinted and he could not see in. Lieutenant Andreu took out his cell phone as he approached the lake, and called 911. He told the dispatcher what was happening, gave the location, the license plate number of the vehicle, and indicated he was going in. He dropped his phone near the edge of the lake, took off his shirt and shoes, and ran as far as he could before he had to swim. As he swam, the SUV dipped and turned, so that the driver’s side was opposite his approach and was lower than the passenger’s side.
When he arrived and told the woman to move over to the passenger’s side so he could pull her out of that window, he realized that she was disoriented. “She looked at me, but as if I wasn’t there,” Lieutenant Andreu said. He later learned that the woman had experienced a medical emergency which caused her to lose control of her vehicle. He swam over the hood of the vehicle, got to the driver’s side, and pulled her out, as water was gushing in. As she was being pulled out, she clung to the window column between the front and back seats, and Lieutenant Andreu had to pry her grip. Once free of the vehicle, he asked her if she knew how to swim and she told him ”a little bit.” He instructed her to kick her feet. He held onto her shirt and pulled her with him. Lieutenant Andreu did not see another occupant, but as they approached land, he asked her if anyone else was in the car and she told him that she was the only occupant.
By the time they had reached the shore, an elderly man who saw the commotion, and was under the assumption that someone remained in the SUV, had gone into the water and was attempting to get to the submerged SUV. Lieutenant Andreu returned to the water, swam to the man, and assisted him in getting back to shore. The vehicle sank below the surface.
“That definitely was a harder struggle than I had with the woman,” Lieutenant Andreu said. He checked the woman’s vital signs to make sure she was fine, and about five minutes later, emergency crews arrived. Paramedics evaluated the woman and determined she was OK.
“I decided we were done playing golf,” Lieutenant Andreu joked. Aiden gave him a “high-five” and the three walked back to the summer home. Several hours later, there was a knock on the door. It was the elderly woman who Lieutenant Andreu saved.
“She was crying, and told me that I was her hero,” he said. “I didn’t do it for any kind of award or recognition, I did it because she needed help. I think God put me in the right place at the right time. Had we hit better shots and moved along quicker, we definitely would not have been there to see it. Everything happens for a reason.”
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