By Bill Parry
An off-duty correction officer from Arverne came to the rescue of a woman with Alzheimer’s who was lost and had strayed into traffic last week. Correction Officer Daniel Leites, 32, spotted 59-year-old Joanne Velasquez wandering on Woodhaven Boulevard around 9:30 p.m. Nov. 16 and he began to follow her.
At Elliot Street she suddenly stepped into oncoming traffic. Leites sprang into action, pushing Velasquez out of the way of a white SUV that grazed the officer, knocking him to the ground.
Leites, who was not hurt, was not able to get her name or any identification, but he noticed she was wearing a medical bracelet that described her condition. Leites used the information from the bracelet to contact her family. He waited with Velasquez until her loved ones arrived.
Last week, Leites was honored at City Hall with another hero, FDNY Lt. Adam Vilagos, who rushed into a burning house in Corona and saved a 3-week-old baby. Vilagos was joined at the ceremony by his uncle, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro.
“Today, we honor two really fantastic New Yorkers—two exemplary New Yorkers—who, in the past three days, have literally saved lives,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Nov. 19. “As we know in this city, sometimes you see people walking by, passing by, and in a big city like this, there can be some anonymity. But Officer Leites had that instinct that it was time to step in and take responsibility. And then he saw this woman literally starting to walk into oncoming traffic. He threw himself in front of her, got her out of harm’s way, saved her life right then and there.”
Leites gave her his sweater because she was cold. Then he bought her a hamburger because she was hungry.
“There’s so much to be proud of in Officer Leite’s actions—his instincts, his attitude, his actions,” de Blasio said. “It is exactly what we rely on from our public servants and those who serve us in uniform, and it emblematic of the best of our correction officers—compassionate, focused, strong action at the time when it’s needed most.”
Leites and Vilagro were presented with certificates of recognition.
“All New York correction officers, all civil servants, FDNY, NYPD, that’s what we do on a regular basis,” Leites said. “We’re never off duty.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr