A courageous act, and some fortunate timing, have turned an Ashaway man into a local hero after police said his actions may have saved the life of a Providence man who crashed into the Pawcatuck River early Tuesday morning.
Bartender Kyle Driscoll, an employee at the Malted Barley, is being praised by officials and coworkers for his efforts after police said he jumped into the icy waters and helped pull the driver, Andreas Berry Barbero, 23, to safety. Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey praised Driscoll’s efforts as going “well beyond” the call of duty, saying if Driscoll wasn’t brave enough to jump in and help Barbero, there is a strong likelihood Barbero would not have survived.
For Driscoll though, it wasn’t an act of courage as much as a reaction to the dangerous situation that developed in front of him.
“I didn’t really think about it to be honest,” Driscoll, 25, said in a phone interview Wednesday. “We heard the car go in and I could see a man in the driver’s seat. He wasn’t moving and the car instantly began to sink, so I took off my shoes and just went in to get him.”
If not for a random fire alarm that was accidentally pulled just a few moments before, Driscoll may not have been in position to make a rescue.
Colin Bennett, owner of the Malted Barley, said Wednesday that he was both impressed and proud of his coworker, noting that since he was first hired, Driscoll has always been kind-hearted and caring.
Shortly after midnight, Bennett said a woman leaving the building at 42 High St. in Westerly tripped on the stairs and accidentally pulled a fire alarm. The building was evacuated, with Kyle and a second staff member heading to the back of the restaurant with a group of customers. Bennett said he and other staff assisted customers in the front of the bar who had gone out toward the street and were already back inside when everything occurred.
“We were initially just wondering who pulled the alarm and were trying to get people back inside. I had really just gotten back inside when a cop arrived and said, ‘Are you Kyle?’” Bennett explained. “I said no and he replied, ‘Kyle is in the river.’”
“Without that mistake with the fire alarm, Kyle isn’t outside to help,” he said.
Westerly and Stonington police each said that, just after 12:15 a.m., Barbero was driving a gray 2007 Saab sedan along Coggswell Street in Pawcatuck when he drove off the end of the roadway and through some brush, landing in the water behind the Malted Barley.
Driscoll was finishing up a cigarette and preparing to return to work following the fire alarm when he heard the loud crashing sounds. He and a second employee then turned and saw a car in the river and shouted to the driver to get out. Barbero seemed “stunned,” he said, and was not moving or responding to their pleas.
So Driscoll, fearing there could be others in the car as well, said his coworker called for help and he went in.
“I remember looking in to see if there was anyone else there. We could see the driver, but I wanted to make sure there was no else there,” Driscoll said. “The driver’s-side window had been broken in the crash, and fortunately, he wasn’t wearing his seat belt. I was able to pull him through the window and out of the car.”
The two struggled a moment before Driscoll was able to grab hold of a white cable wire near the back of the building and pull the two to safety. He said they were sitting on a ledge near some rocks when firefighters threw them a life-preserver while a Pawcatuck firefighters came up the river by boat to get them.
In addition to police and Pawcatuck firefighters, members of the U.S. Coast Guard and Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection were also notified of the incident.
Both men were evaluated at the scene and Driscoll was taken to a nearby hospital as a precaution due to concerns over hypothermia. He confirmed Tuesday that he was not injured, however, and was released immediately following the evaluation.
Stonington police said Barbero also was not injured and refused medical treatment on scene. He was asked to return to the Connecticut side of the river where the crash occurred and agreed to a field sobriety test, which he failed.
Barbero, of Hewitt Street in Providence, was charged with driving under the influence and reckless operation. He is due in New London Superior Court in the coming weeks for arraignment, police said.
Although Barbero was last known to be living in Providence, the car he was driving was registered in New Jersey, officials confirmed. That car is believed to be just south of the Bridge Restaurant in downtown Westerly, Lacey said late Wednesday, and officials are working to determine its exact location and how to remove it.
“There are some shallow and rocky areas south of there and we don’t anticipate it will move much further south. It’s certainly not going to end up in Watch Hill,” Lacey said. “Once we determine the exact position, we will explore whether to bring a crane or where might be an appropriate location to remove it.”
Lacey said police were initially unsure where the car was and were forced to suspend efforts early Tuesday morning due to torrential downpours and other dangerous conditions. Efforts later in the day were also unsuccessful, due in large part to strong currents, but police were able to retrieve video Wednesday showing the car possibly moving past the restaurant.
Meanwhile, Driscoll said the incident has led him to reflect considerably on the adrenaline-pumping start to 2019 and has led him to realize how blessed he actually is.
“There’s a lot that could have happened, a lot that could have gone wrong,” he said. “My phone has gone off constantly since, and it’s led me to realize, I’m blessed. I have so many people who care about me. It makes me realize how truly fortunate I am in life.”