Amagansett: Big Surf, A Man Drowning Far Off And The 17 Year Old Who Saved Him

Jean Carolos Barrientos holding his county proclamation last week.
Jean Carolos Barrientos holding his county proclamation last week.

An East Hampton High School junior, Jean Carlos Barrientos, known as J.C., is working this summer as a cabana boy at the Driftwood Motel in Napeague. He is probably the most celebrated beach boy at any resort or club anywhere on eastern Long Island. On Sunday afternoon, June 3, he saved a man from drowning in the ocean in the most dramatic and remarkable way possible.

Where Barrientos works, there are no ocean lifeguards. In fact, along the whole row of beach resorts in Napeague, there are lifeguards for the swimming pools, but none for the ocean. The responsibility for that lies with the Town, and the Town does not have an “official” ocean beach with lifeguards from Kirk Park Beach in Montauk to the Atlantic Avenue Beach in Amagansett 11 miles away. At these resorts, which are between these two, it’s swim at your own risk, something that, as a result of what happened on this day, might lead to some new thinking.

On that day, however, the thinking was done by 17 year old J.C. Barrientos.

A wooden plank boardwalk runs along the face of the Driftwood where it faces the ocean, and Barrientos was, at 3 p.m. that day, walking along it. Then he thought he heard something. A man crying, crying for help, out in the sea.

He looked. There was a man splashing frantically way off shore. He was a good 200 yards offshore. Something would have to be done. Immediately.

The sea was very rough that day. What should he do? As it happened, J.C. knew exactly what to do. Two years earlier, as a high school freshman, he had taken a summer job at the Amagansett Beach Association as a beach boy. There, he very closely followed the free lifeguard training program he and the other kids had been given at that time by John Ryan Sr., the chairman of the East Hampton water safety committee and a lifeguard trainer. At the end of the program, young J.C. had taken the rigorous physical test in the ocean that prospective lifeguards have to take. Although too young to be eligible to become one, he passed it.

“Come back in two years and take it again for real,” Ryan told those who passed back then.

J.C., as it turned out, could not wait.

Some of the cabana boys carry pocket “walkie-talkie” radios to stay in touch with everyone. J.C. looked again out to the drowning man where the man’s splashing was getting slower and slower and shouted to a nearby cabana boy with a radio to call Arianna at the front desk and tell her to call 911. And also call Perry Halburd, the resort’s supervisor, and tell him to come quick. Then J.C. was off and running down the beach.

The waves were big. He felt fear. But he knew not to go in without a float. He grabbed one as he went past the locker where they are left—an inflatable, and he pulled the cord that was suppose to automatically blow up the inflatable. It didn’t. So he threw it off to the side and he ran back up to the beach to grab a “torpedo” floatation device. Barrientos dove in, with the torpedo strapped around him, diving into the waves and swimming as fast as he could to get to the drowning man. When he got to him, he saw he was face down in the water not moving. He reached in under the man’s arms and got him in a cross-chest carry, then lifted his head out of the water and headed back to shore with him. The man seemed dead. He hoped he wasn’t. On his way in, at a sandbar about 30 yards off shore, J.C. met Halburd splashing along coming out. Together now, the two of them half dragged and half carried the motionless man up onto the sand and laid him down on his back. He looked gone. Eyes rolled back. Face blue.

Halburd also thought he was dead. But he started CPR. At this point, running over, was the man’s girlfriend or maybe his wife, and she was hysterical. Halburd continued on. There was no pulse.

It was only a few minutes later that the first of the professional help arrived, responding to Arianna Clarke’s 911 call. Randy Hoffman, an EMT technician and captain of the Amagansett Fire Department’s ambulance squad, was carrying down the beach a portable EKG machine that had paddles and a defibrillator and a bag/valve oxygen delivery machine. He attached the defibrillator, attached the mask that push oxygen into the man’s nose and mouth and took over the CPR. He got a pulse. He waited for some heart rhythm so he could hit the defibrillator, but it was too sporadic. Now, moments later, there were more professionals arriving, some from the East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue Corps and with their help, they got the man up the beach and into the ambulance and off to the hospital.

On the way, the heartbeat became regular and Nicola Devito, from Brooklyn, woke up. Now he began talking. He wanted to know what was going on? What happened? The Driftwood? He was not a guest there. He would make it.

It was J.C.’s immediate actions that saved this man’s life. When John Ryan Sr. heard about it—he was interviewed by reporters from the Star and from Patch—he told them that on that day the ocean was so rough that his town lifeguards had to struggle to make their daily morning swim from Indian Wells Beach to Atlantic Beach. He also pointed out how J.C.’s specific actions, taken within seconds, calling 911 and the manager, allowed for the rest of the rescue to unfold on a just in time basis.

“I’m convinced that if he didn’t have the presence of mind to take that torpedo out with him—you don’t make rescues like this by yourself—one of them would have died,” said Ryan, according to the East Hampton Star.

J.C., of course, said he owed everything to Ryan. He was scared, yes, but he knew what to do because of him.

Three days after that rescue, at an athletic awards ceremony held before 600 students and parents in the High School auditorium, J.C. along with other members of the school’s soccer team were honored for having won the County Championship. (J.C. was one of the stars of that team.) And then, after that team sat down, J.C. was called back up alone, at which time six members of the East Hampton Volunteer Ocean Rescue Squad came out onto the stage to explain what he had done and shake his hand in appreciation for what he had done. The audience gave him a standing ovation and his parents, Emma Barrientos, who works at the Bridgehampton National Bank and her husband Julio Barrientos who owns his own landscaping company, could not have been more proud.

On June 19, J.C. and his mother went to the Suffolk County Legislature in Riverhead to receive a second award, this time from the County. County Legislator Jay Schneiderman presented it, a framed proclamation from the County about his heroism. Though all of the awards are given out in the beginning of the session, it was asked that people from East Hampton High School who were being honored could go first. J.C. had a test later in the day and wanted more time to study for it.

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