SHREWSBURY – In February, four Shrewsbury police personnel – Officer Alex Desimone, Officer Dillon Zona, Officer Tyler Vlass, and Sergeant Mark Sklut – rescued a man from neck-deep mud and freezing water at Flint Pond.
The five men were reunited under much different circumstances on May 24, as the four policemen were awarded the Team Excellence and Merit (TEAM) Award by Worcester County District Attorney Joseph Early, Jr.
Justin Schmautz, a 24-year-old roadside assistance driver, and his girlfriend were operating a remote-control boat on Flint Pond in February when the vessel became stuck. When Schmautz approached the lake to retrieve the boat, he began to sink into the quicksand-like mud.
Within minutes, Schmautz was stuck in shin-deep mud. He continued to sink, and the mud eventually reached his chest, then shoulders, then neck.
“I started seeing stars… I couldn’t breathe very well,” Schmautz said at the award ceremony. “I was seeing the light pretty much at that point.”
Schmautz’s girlfriend made the 911 call, and emergency crews arrived soon after. Officer Desimone attempted to wade through the mud to reach Schmautz at first, but crews were eventually able to utilize the ResQ Disc, a frisbee-like water rescue device, to bring Schmautz back ashore.
“Training kicked in for all of the guys that day,” Early said. “Because of their quick thinking – because of their teamwork – they were able to save a life.”
Police Chief Kevin Anderson responded to the call and saw the rescue.
“As I was pulling up… I could actually see [the] team take that man out of the water. I was never more proud to be a police officer for this town,” he said.
Schmautz called the group of first responders his “dream team.”
“You saved my life. That was one of the worst days – the scariest days – of my life. I was absolutely frozen,” he said. “I wouldn’t be here without you guys.”
According to a press release from the district attorney’s office, Early created the TEAM Award in 2019 to “recognize public safety employees who go above and beyond the call of duty.” The ceremony was held in front of Schmautz’s family and several Shrewsbury Police Department personnel at the town’s new police station.