Driver Dies After Car Plunges into Water off Long Island Marina

A driver has died after his vehicle plunged into the water at a Long Island marina where several other drivers have flown off the same boat ramp in recent years, police say. 

The man, identified as 69-year-old William Whalen, drove straight into the water at Port Jefferson Marina boat launch off West Broadway and Barnum avenues just after 7 p.m. Monday, according to Suffolk County police. It's not clear what caused the SUV to go off the pier, but the car quickly went underwater and was submerged. 

Responding police officers jumped into the water to extricate the driver, with the assistance of some firefighters who happened to be nearby, authorities said.

"They went in with their civilian clothes, they jumped right in and went into action," Port Jefferson Fire Chief Charles Russo said of the firefighters. "They broke the window open and they removed the motorist from the vehicle."

Whalen, who had been submerged in the harbor for 10 minutes, was taken to Stony Brook University Hospital in critical condition, and died a short time later. 

"Anything over 10 minutes is very critical. Very critical at that point," said Russo. 

The responding police officers were also transported to a local hospital to be treated for hypothermia. 

Investigators surmise that Whalen got confused when he approached the intersection of West Broadway and Barnum, and drove right down the boat ramp and into the water, possibly assuming it was part of the roadway.

"The water is dark here. It is a lit area at night but it came seem like it might be a roadway," said Russo. "It happens over and over again."

The parking lot entrance that leads to the waterway has several "Do Not Enter" signs -- but drivers are still apparently missing it, turning from the intersection of Broadway and Barnum straight toward the water: last April, a driver did the very same thing and survived. Another car went the same ramp last year, too, and the driver also survived. But several years ago, in May 2012, an 87-year-old woman drove into the water and died. 

The troublesome pattern has some wondering whether the marina needs more signs and lights. 

Port Jefferson resident Bob Hanson chalks it up to "careless driving," saying there's "plenty of signage over there." 

"It's all the driver," agreed Charlie Gravano of Medford. "It's all the driver." 

"You can't be careful enough," says Lee Kurouses of Port Jefferson. 

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