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Friends, community raising funds to help Riverhead police officer recover following crash

More than $22,000 was raised in under a day to help a Riverhead Town police officer who was injured during a police pursuit Tuesday.

Robert Sproston is currently in the intensive care unit at Stony Brook University Hospital, according to a page a friend created on the website GoFundMe. The fundraiser was well on its way to exceeding its goal of raising $25,000 to help Officer Sproston, 28, while he recovers from his injuries.

“This will take the financial burden away from him as he has a long journey ahead due to the extent of his injuries,” wrote friend Lucia Barrella, who created the page. “It’s our time to support and care for him as he has done for us over the years.”

Mr. Sproston is a Riverhead firefighter and Marine, according to his friend.

Tim Corwin, chief of the Riverhead Fire Department, said Mr. Sproston is a member of the Redbird Hook & Ladder Company and is relatively new to the department after previously serving in the Rocky Point Fire Department in the town where he grew up.

Mr. Corwin said the incident has hit twice as hard for the fellow firefighters because Mr. Sproston’s father, Bill, is a longtime member and a lieutenant.

“We’re dealing with our emotions for Rob, but then we’re also dealing with the emotions because we know what his father is going through as well,” he said.

The fire department companies have been doing whatever they can to support his family, Mr. Corwin said.

“The biggest thing right now is he’s at a good hospital in good hands and we’re just really praying,” he said.

The officer was involved in a collision on Osborn and Youngs avenues Tuesday afternoon, according to police Chief David Hegermiller.

The injured officer was driving north in a marked police car with emergency lights activated on Osborn Avenue and collided with another car near the intersection of Youngs Avenue, causing the police car to go off the road and into a fence, the chief said.

In a media release, police said the marked police car attempted to pass a second vehicle that had been traveling northbound on Osborn and collided when the vehicle attempted to turn left onto Youngs Avenue.

Mr. Sproston’s father was in one of the engines responding to the crash, “which made it even harder,” Mr. Corwin said. He added that he and another chief then drove Bill to the hospital so he can be near his son.

The added stress of the COVID-19 pandemic has made it harder for those close to Mr. Sproston to show support as they normally would under the circumastances.

“That’s something, especially being one of my guys, I would be with the family there and everything,” Mr. Corwin said. “It was really difficult because you couldn’t even walk in. It’s tough not being able to be there for Bill.”

He said the Riverhead fire chiefs have been in communication with the family numerous times a day.

“It’s definitely going to be a long road,” he said. “Fingers crossed and everybody keep praying.”

The pursuit began in Greenport when Southold Town police were notified of an incident where a person was threatened with a knife and had their car stolen, Stringer News reported. Southold police spotted the stolen vehicle and were led on a pursuit, which they ended when reaching Riverhead Town on Sound Avenue. Chief Hegermiller said he believes New York State Police then picked up the pursuit in Riverhead. 

The vehicle being pursued did not turn down Osborn but instead went south on Doctors Path, the chief said. The vehicle went south on Northville Turnpike and then south onto Roanoke Avenue.

The driver fled on foot in the vicinity of the First Street parking lot in Riverhead.

Mr. Sproston was taken to Peconic Bay Medical Center and stabilized, and was then airlifted to Stony Brook, the chief said. Police said in a media release late Tuesday that he was in stable but serious condition.

His injuries were to the upper torso and neck area and he was in the operating room Tuesday night, the chief said. By Wednesday morning, he was out of surgery and moved to the intensive care unit, the chief said.

“That’s a very good sign,” he said.

Mr. Corwin said many of the firefighters who would have responded to the crash on scene hadn’t arrived yet when the chiefs got there and realized who was injured. The chiefs and officers first on scene were able to remove Mr. Sproston from the vehicle, so Mr. Corwin was able to hold back the rest of the crew so they could avoid seeing the scene.

“It’s a difficult time but everyone for right now is holding together,” he said. “We’re getting decent news so that’s making it a little more bearable.”