Ever since he grew up in Hampton Bays and Mastic Beach, Joe Goss wanted to be a police officer. And it’s a good thing: His career choice has turned out to be a true lifesaver for many Long Islanders.

In his 14 years with the Suffolk County Police Department, Goss always put the public’s safety above his own, as does every dedicated officer. This past July, Goss, who has been with the Highway Patrol for the last four years, found himself in a situation that could have easily gone south – not only for him, but for the numerous drivers in the path of an out-of-control crane.

During the incident, Goss, who was originally supposed to be off that day, came upon a huge crane that was hitting one car after another on the Long Island Expressway near exit 57.

“When I saw the crane, I was seriously shocked,” said Goss. “It was gigantic.” His first thought was that the driver might actually be a terrorist. “He was all over the road. He wasn’t able to maintain his lane whatsoever, and I was really concerned if he kept going that he would kill somebody,” he said.

The crane was a 30-ton vehicle, and its chassis is about the same size as six large pickup trucks put together.

The cars that had been hit “looked like pancakes” Goss added. “That thing is like a tank going down the road.”

The driver knew he was in trouble and kept driving. Goss, who was the first to respond to the 911 call, weaved his car left to right to slow up traffic. “I asked for spike strips, but I wasn’t even sure they would work on those tires,” he said. “They were four-and-a-half-feet high.”

After the crane had traveled several miles, Goss and a colleague, Officer Luis Bustamente, were able to slow the traffic in their two cruisers, keeping drivers away from the moving crane.

Eventually, with the help of other officers on the scene, Goss was able to make the crane move over to the shoulder. “He slowed down a little bit and I was alongside him, so I jumped out and up to the step rail on the passenger’s side. I took out my gun and told him to SHUT IT DOWN. Thankfully, he did.”

IMG_9656

Before he could arrest the driver, though, Goss tore a muscle on his foot, because he fell into the box between the passenger and driver’s seat. The driver, 47-year-old Brian Sinclair, refused to take a breathalyzer, but alcohol and prescription drugs were all over the crane’s cabin.

Goss says the whole episode was so unbelievable that it reminded him of a live version of the Grand Theft Auto video game. But, of course, it was no game – and it took a team to make it end without any serious injuries, Goss added. “It was a coordinated effort. I had the best veterans with me.”

At a news conference, Suffolk Police Chief of Department Stuart Cameron said Goss’s actions, along with the other officers, prevented what could have been an enormous tragedy. “I don’t really think you need to use too much imagination to see the potential catastrophe that could have occurred had this crane not been stopped.”

~ Clear and Present Danger ~

This wasn’t the first time Goss had jumped into a moving vehicle. In December 2016 a 911 call went out describing an erratic driver traveling eastbound near exit 68 of the Long Island Expressway. When Goss pulled alongside the car, he rolled down his window and the driver rolled down her passenger side window. But when he told her to pull over, she refused. It was then that Goss saw the biggest danger: There was a baby in the back seat of her car. “The first thing we do as a police officer is scan the car for threats,” said Goss.  “I’m a dad myself so as soon as I saw the baby in the backseat, I knew the biggest threat was to the safety of that child.”  Goss moved his vehicle back and forth across the lanes with his emergency lights on to slow traffic down to make it safer. The woman had slowed down to about 5 mph, so he passed her on the right-hand shoulder, got out of his vehicle and took what he called the “window of opportunity”

IMG_9660

to stop the vehicle. He leaned in through the passenger-side window of the still-moving car, reached the shifter and slammed it into park. The car stopped, and he pulled the keys out. They were still blocking traffic in the right lane, but fortunately Goss’s commanding officer pulled up and helped him blocked traffic to protect other drivers. “No one got hurt, so we were really grateful,” said Goss. The motorist, who was identified as Maria Lagatta, 37, of Farmingville, was arrested under Leandra’s Law for driving while ability impaired by drugs, thereby endangering the welfare of her 22-month-old daughter. Sadly, the epidemic of drug use on Long Island is often involved in motor vehicle incidents, and children are not immune to its effects. Goss describes one time when he came up to a woman passed out in her car with a crack pipe in her lap.

“When she stopped at a stop sign, her car kept coasting; it was driving onto people’s lawns,” he said. “I took a heavy bird bath that was on someone’s property, threw it behind her tires and then threw the car into park.”

Goss saw that there was a baby was in the back seat. “The child was crying hysterically. And the car  was completely disgusting. The smell of PCP [Phencyclidine, also know as angel dust] hit me.”

It was very sad, he added. “She was actually a very nice woman when she wasn’t high, and I felt bad for her. Being hooked on drugs is a terrible road to go down. Judges usually aren’t too easy on you. But she had put herself and her baby in harm’s way.”

~ True Partnerships ~

Goss was eager to become a member of the Highway Patrol after his first 10 years in the force. The Highway Patrol is one of the most visible and important bureaus in the Suffolk County Police Department. With a wide variety of responsibilities, these are the brave officers we commonly see on our highways and major roadways. Their overarching mission is to improve roadway safety for all of us.

IMG_9662

Before becoming a member of the Highway Patrol, Goss had the most DWIs in the department – “more than the midnight guys, and I even won an award from MADD.” He was a natural fit for the Highway Patrol, but when offered the transfer he didn’t want to leave his partner. Goss recalls “Deputy Inspector Stan Grovsky said that if I said yes, right then and there he would take my partner Dan Hearon too. He did. And since then, we’ve been here together on the job.”

Goss has no plans to leave the Highway Patrol, but does hope to get into the Motor Carrier Unit, which would allow him to be off on weekends to spend more time with his wife and two children.

“My wife wishes that I didn’t find myself in the situations I do,” said Goss. “However, at the end of the day, I feel good about saving lives and locking up people who endanger the lives of others.”