City Honors Correction Officer for Off-Duty Act of Heroism

City Honors Correction Officer for Off-Duty Act of Heroism

PHOTO:  Mayor Bill de Blasio (l.) and DOC Commissioner Joe Ponte last week presented CO Daniel Leites with a certificate of recognition for preventing a woman with Alzheimer’s – who had previously been reported missing – from being struck by a car on Woodhaven Boulevard, and subsequently helping her reunite with her family. Photo Courtesy of ​Demetrius Freeman/Mayoral Photography Unit


Mayor Bill de Blasio last Thursday presented a Certificate of Recognition to Correction Officer Daniel Leites, who heroically prevented a woman with Alzheimer’s disease—who had previously been reported missing—from being struck by a car on Woodhaven Boulevard, and subsequently helping her reunite with her family.

Leites, 32, a four-year veteran of the Department of Correction stationed on Rikers Island, was off duty last Monday night near Queens Center when he spotted Joanne Velasquez, 59, wandering aimlessly on Woodhaven Boulevard. His instincts and training told him something was awry—and when he saw the Velasquez walk into oncoming traffic, he instantly threw himself in front of her, into harm’s way, saving her life.

“Luckily, the car hit the brakes and just tapped me a little bit,” he told the New York Daily News.

Leites noticed her medical alert bracelet and realized Velasquez had Alzheimer’s disease. He immediately dialed the number listed, spoke to her family, and learned that she had been reported missing. As Leites waited for her family to arrive, he bought Velasquez a burger and gave her his sweater.

Last Thursday, Leites shared the City Hall spotlight with FDNY Lt. Adam Vilagos, who also received a Certificate of Recognition. The Queens smoke-eater was commended for rescuing a baby from an attic during an all-hands fire in Corona.

Vilagos and Engine Co. 316 arrived on the fire scene within four minutes of the initial emergency call. The 18-year veteran fire officer was sprinting up the stairs of the burning home when he heard someone call out, “There’s a baby in the attic.” Even though the attic was filled with thick black smoke and Vilagos could barely see, he found the 3-week-old baby and carried him outside to safety. Vilagos handed the infant to a fellow first responder and immediately turned around and ran back to the burning house to finish putting out the fire.

“On behalf of all New Yorkers, we honor Offier Leites and Lieutenant Vilagos, who went above and beyond the call of duty to save the lives of others,” de Blasio said. “The heroic and selfless actions of these outstanding public servants truly exemplify the spirit of New York’s Boldest and New York’s Bravest. We thank them not just for these acts of heroism, but for serving New Yorkers each and every day.”


By Michael V. Cusenza


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