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Round Island woman given awards for saving boater in June accident

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ALEXANDRIA BAY — Sarah E. Gillette remembered seeing a head bobbing in the cold St. Lawrence River and just wanted to get to the man as quickly as possible before he drowned.

On June 2, Mrs. Gillette, 65, a third-generation Round Island resident who spends winters in Florida, rescued a Camillus man who had been thrown from his 17-foot boat when a wave hit it off Round Island. After hearing his yells for help, she jumped in her boat and began searching.

She found Terence J. Brennan, 53, bobbing up and down not far from shore.

For her heroics, Mrs. Gillette — whom friends call Sally — was presented Tuesday with two awards during a ceremony under the gazebo at Keewaydin State Park.

“It’s not just about me,” she said. “I wasn’t the only one involved.”

She was given the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators’ Award of Commendation and the Recreational Boating Life Saving Award from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation’s Marine Services Bureau.

Only six other New York boaters have received the national award since its inception in 2008. It is given to someone who has exhibited heroism and faced risks to his or her own life when saving another boater.

The other award recognizes a good samaritan who comes to the aid of another boater in life-threatening distress and successfully rescues him or her.

In downplaying her part, Mrs. Gillette said that about 25 people were involved in the search and rescue. Two local doctors wrapped Mr. Brennan in a blanket and used other methods to warm him up.

But folks from the parks department and the boaters association said Mr. Brennan would not be alive if not for her actions.

“It certainly made a difference,” said Kevin A. Kieff, regional director of the state office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

On that June day, Mrs. Gillette was on the island talking on the phone when she heard a man yelling for help somewhere on the river.

While her husband, Paul F., and a neighbor headed out in one boat, Mrs. Gillette jumped into a smaller vessel to look for the person in trouble.

Using the 19-foot Triumph’s platform and swim ladder, she pulled the barely conscious man to safety, she recalled. Before that, he swam a good 1,000 feet from where he fell and was in the water for about 30 minutes before she found him, she said.

After Tuesday’s ceremony, she noted the importance of women learning how to drive a boat because one of their loved ones may someday be in distress. A resident of the island since the 1960s, she got her boater’s license when she was just 12 years old.

Roseann Woodard, an education specialist with the parks department, said 16 people have died in boating accidents in New York this year, with 14 not wearing a life jacket. About 38 percent involved drug or alcohol use, she said. Mr. Brennan was charged with boating while intoxicated.

Ms. Woodard recommended that all boaters properly equip and carry essential safety gear, take a boating safety course and refrain from mixing alcohol with boating.

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