The National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund (NLEOMF) has announced the selection of Det. Tina Lacertosa of the Broward County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office as Officer of the Month for July 2007 for saving the victim of a hit-and-run who was thought to be dead.
People across the Eastern United States view South Florida as a winter haven—place to migrate, trading cold temperatures and snow for sunshine and beaches. Eric Eaton and his wife, Joan, of Pennsylvania make this trip to Florida annually to visit their son. Thanks to quick thinking by Det. Lacertosa, Eric Eaton will be able to make the trip again next year.
In the morning hours of March 5, 2007, Mr. Eaton was finishing his daily three-mile run. The 78-year-old has remained in great shape and regularly competes in marathons. While crossing the street in a designated pedestrian crosswalk just a short distance from his son's home, Eaton was hit by a 2006 Mercedes Benz. As he lay on the road, his life was slipping away.
Lacertosa, a four-year veteran of the Broward County Sheriff's Office and a deputy sheriff at the time, was on routine patrol when she received a call for a hit-and-run on a pedestrian, and proceeded to the scene. Upon arriving, she was immediately approached by a witness who identified herself as a medical professional. The witness explained that she had tried to provide medical assistance to Eaton, but he was already dead. She had covered his body with a sheet.
Lacertosa called the Dania Beach Fire Rescue to respond to the scene. After the call, Lacertosa decided it would be best if she checked out Eaton herself, instead of basing her assessment solely on the witness' information. As Lacertosa pulled back the blanket, she feared the worst. Eaton was cold to the touch, his eyes had rolled back, and he was bleeding profusely from a head injury. Yet, Lacertosa noticed that he was wearing tennis shoes and knee braces and seemed to be in excellent shape.
"You know what, it's not really been that long, so just let me take a shot at it," Lacertosa recalled thinking to herself. "I know he's got family and loved ones, and they don't want him to go." So without wasting any time she decided to try to find a pulse. After a few attempts, she noticed Eaton indeed had a pulse, though faint. Immediately Lacertosa began to perform CPR. After about 20 seconds, Eaton began to cough. Trying to get a response she began talking to Eaton saying, "Don't leave. You're going to be fine. Hold my hand." Eaton began squeezing Lacertosa's hand and didn't let go until paramedics arrived. Reluctantly, Lacertosa released his hand and let the paramedics rush him to the hospital.
Lacertosa remained at the scene to assess the incident. About the same time, Eaton's wife, Joan, had arrived to the scene and was in shock at what had happened. Lacertosa comforted Mrs. Eaton and gave her a ride to the hospital where they awaited word from the doctors on Mr. Eaton's condition, which was originally listed as critical.
Mr. Eaton's condition soon improved, and although being tired and somewhat confused in the hospital, he praised the efforts of Det. Lacertosa. So did his grateful family. "She not only saved my dad's life, she waited with my mother and took her to the hospital," said the Eatons' daughter, Susan White. Since the incident, Lacertosa has visited Mr. Eaton several times and become very close with his family. She refers to Mr. Eaton as her "friend for life."
"I wouldn't say I was a hero," says Lacertosa. "I just believe things happen for a reason, and I was in the right place at the right time." Broward County Sheriff Ken Jenne believes she is being too modest.
Det. Tina Lacertosa continues to serve and protect the citizens, and vacationers, of Broward County. In April 2007 she was awarded the "Officer of the Month Award" from the Broward County Crime Stoppers. She has also been nominated by Sheriff Jenne for the Broward County Sheriff's Office Lifesaving Award.