2001-08-11 / Columnists

From The Editor’s Desk by Howard Schwach

It is a truism in life that politicians crave newspaper ink the way that vampires crave human blood. John Baxter, who is sort of running for City Council on the Independence Party line is obviously no different.

What separates John from some of the others is that he used a tragedy and lied about the facts to get his five minutes of fame in our city’s daily newspapers.

John Baxter stood at the site where three girls had died and told reporters that the girls might have lived had the Lawrence-Cedarhurst Volunteer Fire Department and the Nassau County aviation unit been involved earlier in the rescue effort.

He meant this as a dig against the city and against the best police and fire rescue units in the world. He did it, I believe, because his quotes insured him the ink he craved.

"The Lawrence-Cedarhurst Fire Department is just a half a mile away," Baxter told reporters. "I can almost see them from here. It’s absurd that they weren’t the first ones called."

"if they and the NYPD were on proper terms, at least one and maybe the other two girls would have been saved."

Floyd Smith, who led the 60-person protest at the drowning site, and who believes the drowning was somehow racially motivated, agreed with Baxter.

"In an emergency here, Lawrence-Cedarhurst is the last called because they are volunteers," he told reporters.

Those statements fly in the fact of the facts. In fact, they are lies dedicated not towards getting to the truth, but rather to getting ink.

I spoke with both the Nassau County aviation bureau and with the chief of the Lawrence-Cedarhurst Volies.

The fact is, the Lawrence-Cedarhurst Volunteer Fire Department was notified of the drowning. And, the organization did respond.

"As soon as it became clear that there were bodies in the water, NYPD notified the Nassau County police and they notified us. Those notifications take time," Chief Tony Deluca told me. "We have an inflatable that we keep at the fire house on Central Avenue in Lawrence and divers, and we put out the alarm. The members who were in the area responded and we were on site in about 25 minutes."

"I would hate to be underwater for 25 minutes," Deluca added.

As for the NCPD aviation unit, the county PIO officials told me that their copters are housed in Bethpage, about 20 miles from the site of the drowning.

"Unless our copters are up and in the area, we have about a 10 – 15 minute response time to that area of the county," a county spokesperson said.

In contrast, the NYPD aviation unit is housed in Floyd Bennett Field. It was over the site and dropping divers into the water in under ten minutes. Fire Department units responding had boats and surf boards in the water only minutes later.

Police motorized units responding were on scene in four minutes. One officer dove fully dressed, gun and all, into the water and pulled one of the girls from the surf. Unfortunately, she was already gone.

Both Baxter and Smith had to know the facts. Baxter could not see the Lawrence-Cedarhurst fire units from where he stood on the beach, because they are on Central Avenue, at least two or three miles away.

There was never a chance that those units could be on site before city units.

Yet, Baxter and Smith made the charge and the media listened. All three of the daily papers played up the line of malarkey provided by Smith and Baxter.

Todd Venezia of the Daily News was the worst of the lot, actually reporting that the girls could have been saved had Nassau units been called, but other reporters were not far behind.

It might have been a good story, but it was not the truth.

The shame lies not only with Baxter and Smith, but with those reporters who bought their line.

Baxter and Smith got their ink and the reporters got a story.

What more could we ask for?

A little truth would be nice here.

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