A car had just burst into flames as Southold Town Police officer John Hinton raced on foot to the guardrail on the East Marion causeway late Monday night. The flames and smoke shielded his view inside the vehicle, which had just flipped over a couple times before jumping the guardrail and stopping before rocks that jut out of Orient Harbor.
It was just after 11:30 p.m. when Mr. Hinton began searching for the driver.
“I thought maybe he got ejected because the windshield came off in one piece,” he said. “I didn’t know if he had the seatbelts on or anything like that.”
But the driver, who police identified as Antonio McGill, 30, of Mastic, was having difficulty getting out of the car.
Not long before the crash, two calls alerted police to a “mysterious vehicle,” driving erratically, Officer Hinton said. The first reported a vehicle driving at a high rate of speed, failing to maintain its lane and stopping in the middle of the road.
The second call reported the driver farther east.
Mr. Hinton drove through Greenport and didn’t see the vehicle; he headed east toward the causeway.
As he approached he could see the tail lights of a car speeding ahead as it reached the thin stretch of road.
“I was trying to catch up to him and the next thing I know he lost control, hit the guardrail, flipped over and the car just burst into flames,” the officer said.
Officer Hinton quickly relayed what had happened to headquarters so fire crews could respond. He ran to the vehicle, but couldn’t spot anyone at first.
He looked in the back of the vehicle initially, because that’s where most of the flames burned at first and he wasn’t sure how many passengers, if any, there were.
“He had all these kids’ clothes in the car so I wanted to make sure there were no kids in the car,” the officer said.
He ran back to his squad car for a fire extinguisher, then jumped over the guardrail to check the front of the burning vehicle.
Mr. McGill, who had flipped on his side after the car tumbled, was trying to get out. Officer Hinton helped pull him out.
Officer Hinton walked Mr. McGill to his squad car and noticed the man had suffered burns. A Suffolk County police medevac helicopter transported him to Stony Brook University Hospital. East Marion and Orient fire department volunteers responded to extinguish the fire.
Police Chief Martin Flatley said the accident investigation is ongoing. He added that the serious nature of Mr. McGill’s injuries limited police’s ability to perform field sobriety tests. It is unknown if he would face any charges for the single-vehicle crash.
It’s not the first dramatic emergency scene Mr. Hinton, now in his fourth year with the Southold Police Department, has responded to.
On Saturday, he was heading out in a boat in choppy waters with a detective toward Plum Gut, where three men were rescued after their boat sank. As a member of the Cutchogue Fire Department, he was also one of the first on the scene of the 2015 limo crash in Cutchogue in which four young women were killed.
Mr. McGill’s family members said Tuesday they’re grateful for Officer Hinton’s actions.
“I sincerely thank him,” said Mr. McGill’s sister Indigo. “Many blessings are coming his way.”
Mr. McGill was discharged from Stony Brook on Tuesday afternoon, his family said. He suffered moderate burns to his face.