SABATTUS, Maine — Distraught over a girl, the teenager had hanged himself in a garage and now lay there, gray and still, on the floor.
Officer Ralph DeStefano didn’t want to say out loud what he and the boy’s parents already feared. He thought the boy was dead.
He threw himself into CPR, anyway.
The call came in around 2 p.m. on June 5. With the Sabattus force seven years, and an officer for 22 years, DeStefano was on the job that afternoon. Androscoggin County dispatch said they had heard from a distraught father.
“His son told his dad that he didn’t have to bother coming home because he’ll be dead when he gets there,” DeStefano said.
The father relayed that the 16-year-old described being near the first yellow house with a two-car attached garage on a rural road.
DeStefano had passed it many times.
“I have in my mind this yellow house,” he said. “[But] I didn’t know if this kid had a gun; I didn’t know what he was going to do. It was not a comfortable situation.”
The house was abandoned and unlocked. DeStefano cautiously but quickly checked its rooms, closets, the garage, the land around the property — nothing. Dispatch couldn’t reach the father for clarification. DeStefano hopped back in his cruiser and drove farther up the road.
Outside a second yellow house, “I could hear someone screaming — it was the dad,” DeStefano said. “The dad was screaming, ‘Help, help, help.’”
“I jumped out of the car,” he said. “[The teen] was in the shed on the floor, face up. He was gray, gray head to toe.”
The 16-year-old had hanged himself and the father pulled him down. DeStefano said he checked for a pulse, felt the carotid artery, put his head to the boy’s chest to listen.
“Nothing, nothing,” DeStefano said. “I didn’t want to say, ‘Your kid’s dead.’”
He ran back to the cruiser, grabbed a CPR mask and began breathing into the boy’s mouth while coaching the father to do chest compressions.
“I don’t know how long it was. It seems like forever — it was probably just a few minutes,” DeStefano said.
As an ambulance pulled in, he listened again for a heartbeat. “It was really rapid but faint. All of a sudden, the kid went, ‘Uhh!’ It took another few minutes for him to take another deep breath.
“His color had come back as he was being loaded into the ambulance,” he said.
Emergency medical technicians from United, called to the scene by dispatch at the same time as DeStefano, visited the town office later that day to tell the officer doctors credited him with saving the 16-year-old.
The boy made a full recovery after a hospital stay. A thank you card from the father reiterated later, “The doctor made it very clear to me, if you didn’t do exactly what you did my son wouldn’t be here.”
Police Chief Thomas Fales wrote in a letter of commendation: “Officer DeStefano exercised excellent judgment, skill and compassion while still maintaining a caring, professional demeanor through the entire incident.”
It was the second life he had saved on the job. Two years ago, DeStefano helped pull a man from a burning truck on Marsh Road.
Sabattus interim police chief Jerry Hinton said he heard about the latest incident while overseeing reserve officers taking a CPR class in southern Maine.
“I said to the class, ‘React. Do what you’re trained to do; don’t give up,’” Hinton said. “He did the right thing he was trained to do and saved a young man’s life. How great is that?”
DeStefano, 52, is humble. He pointed to a co-worker and said, “Maybe she pulls someone over; she saves a life.”
It’s what police do, he said.
His father was an officer in Boston for 38 years and worked the TPF, tactical patrol force. Hearing his on-the-job tales, “fabulous, exciting stories,” is what got DeStefano into the work, he said.
On Tuesday, selectmen will honor him for saving the teenager.
Every officer, DeStefano insisted, deserves accolades. But, he allowed, the experience was “pretty amazing, one of the most amazing things I had ever seen. I honestly thought he was dead. I didn’t think you could come back from that.”
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