3 Police Officers Cling to Trees for Hours After Floodwaters Sweep Them Away in New Jersey Storms

by Suzanne Halliburton

Three police officers, who held on to tree limbs for two hours, needed to be rescued after New Jersey storms pounded the state.

The remnants of Hurricane Ida triggered the New Jersey storms and floods across the Northeast. And three first responders in Hopewell Township very nearly lost their lives because of the flooding.

According to the town’s Facebook page, officer James Hoffman was the first to respond to a rescue call. This was on Wednesday night. But he became trapped by the floodwaters, which picked up his police car. He needed to quickly figure out how to get out of his car.

“While struggling to reach the person in need, his vehicle was swept sideways and was rapidly lifted by the rising water of Stony Brook,” the town’s Facebook post said. “Very quickly he realized he needed to get out of the car. But the door would not open due to the pressure of the water. He removed the gear he was wearing and was able to escape the vehicle through the window.”

The post said Hoffman traveled about the length of a football field before he grabbed a tree.

Then two more officers tried to rescue Hoffman. But the flooding from the New Jersey storms overwhelmed them, too. They ended up in trees, too.

Officers Trapped In New Jersey Storms Floodwaters Needed to Fire Guns So that Rescuers Could Find Them

Hopewell Township Police Director Bob Karmazin told NJ Advance Media that the officers had to fire their guns so that the other rescue units could find them in the darkness.

“Real heroes,” Karmazin said of the officers. “They had a total disregard for their own safety, and we’re very lucky they were able to hold on the way they did.”

Thankfully, the three officers were rescued as the New Jersey storms raged on. But it took some survivalist thinking by the officers to allow other first responders to even find them. The swift water rescue teams from three different fire departments used boats to get to the officers and free them from the trees.

One officer collapsed in the boat. All three were physically and mentally exhausted. Hoffman held onto the tree for two hours. The two other officers — Michael Makwinski and Robert Voorhees — held on for dear life for almost two hours.

The New Jersey State Police Benevolent Association described the rescue as the “Miracle in Mercer County.”

The New Jersey storms were so intense there needed to be 50 water rescues Wednesday in Hopewell.

And all three officers who needed to be rescued had a history of doing that for others in the city. NJ Advance Media reported that Hoffman helped rescue an 86-year-old woman from her burning home back in 2014.

Then last November, Makwinski and Voorhees helped save a man’s life by using an automated external defibrillator to resuscitate him. The man came to the police department a month later to thank the two officers.

Meanwhile, the New Jersey storms shut down Newark Airport and most of the state’s rail service.