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Port Orange Observer Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018 5 months ago

Port Orange recreation officials help rescue woman from submerged car

Josh Long and Robert Matassa were recognized in a ceremony on Nov. 6 at the Lakeside Center.
by: Lurvin Fernandez Staff Writer

When Joshua Long and Robert Matassa arrived at work on Oct. 8, they didn't know they'd help save a life later that day. 

Matassa, a park supervisor, and Long, an athletic field and facilities technician, for the Port Orange Parks and Recreation Department, were at the end of Riverside Dr. when they heard a screech and saw a car heading their way at 60 miles per hour with no sign of stopping. 

Within seconds, they watched the car break through the fence and plunge into Rose Bay.  

As others ran to the scene to see what happened and help, Long already was emptying his pockets and taking off his boots to rescue the driver. Matassa called fire and rescue.

Long said he was fearful because, at the time, Hurricane Matthew was lingering off the coast of Florida and the current was strong. He could see papers and other items from within the car float away into the water. Still, he dove in and hoped the water wasn't deep enough. 

"At that point, you don't think, you do what you need to do," he said. 

The driver, who drove into the bay as a suicide attempt, was hanging out the driver's side of the car and Long pulled her out onto the car's roof. 

His heart dropped when he saw a child's toy floating within the car. Another man, who dove into the lake to help Long, held the woman on the roof, while Long checked other seats and found nobody. 

A lifeguard later confirmed the woman was alone when she drove into the water.

Once fire and rescue arrived, the driver was placed on a backboard to shore. Long helped push the backboard, which was struggling to stay afloat. 

Matassa said he has worked for the recreation department for about 30 years and he has never witnessed anything like what happened that day. He said they were lucky no one was hurt, and it was good to see others helping each other. 

"We could've watched it sink, but people challenged themselves," he said. 

Long and Matassa have have received recognition from their peers and city officials since the incident, including a ceremony on Nov. 6, where they both received certificates and honorary hero pins from the city.

In emails, Fire chief Ken Fustin said Long played a big part in saving the driver's life, and Mayor Don Burnette said he was" astonished to hear the story about how (Long) saved someone, who at the time, did not want to be saved."

"I cannot express how gratified I am to know that you have the heart of a hero, and answered the call to go above and beyond when needed most," he said, in a letter to Long. 


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