Sergeant OK after tornado picks up his patrol car

A tornado whipped through Westchester County Wednesday, and along the way it picked up a New York State Police patrol car with a Sergeant inside of it. Thankfully, the Sergeant received only minor injuries in the incident.

The National Weather Service reported the twister had winds between 100-125 mph and changed back and forth from an F-1 to an F-2 on the Fujita scale. In comparison, less than 10 percent of all tornadoes reach F-2 status, making Wednesday’s storm stronger than most that are seen in the Midwest. This was the first tornado to hit Westchester County since 2000.

While the tornado caused damage to trees, houses, and businesses, no major injuries were reported as a result.

The Journal News printed an article today about the experience of State Police Sgt. Ira Promisel, who was in Hawthorne, during the tornado.

THE JOURNAL NEWS (Original publication: July 14, 2006)

Call him the "tornado trooper."

State Police Sgt. Ira Promisel may be the first cop in history to take a wild ride on a twister and live to tell about it. Hackneyed comparisons to "The Wizard of Oz" and any number of disaster flicks featuring flying cows were predictable, but this was nothing like a movie.

This was more than real. It was surreal.

"This was definitely a unique experience I’ll never forget," Promisel, 38, said yesterday. "I’ll venture to guess that there’s probably never been a state trooper lifted up by a tornado before."

Promisel’s bizarre rendezvous with Mother Nature happened at 3:50 p.m., 10 minutes before his normal quitting time. Driving a 2006 Ford Crown Victoria police car, he had just finished a late lunch at a Wendy’s restaurant on Saw Mill River Road and was about to turn onto Route 9A when he noticed an ominous gathering of dark clouds. It began to rain.

Then the wind picked up. Overhead electrical wires and tree branches shook violently in the swirling gusts. He backed the car up and waited, keeping the gear selector in drive in case he had to make a quick escape.

"At that point, it started to get very dark," he said. "And some debris started to fly by. Then I felt a sudden change in air pressure and that really told me that something very bad was happening."

Promisel, who enjoys recreational scuba diving, compared the feeling to being underwater. He could feel the atmospheric change in his head and inner ears. A split-second later came a loud noise, similar to a locomotive or stampeding horses, and Promisel knew instinctively that he was inside a tornado.

Parked about 10 feet away, two Con Edison employees, general utility worker Brendon McNamara, 37, and mechanic Joe Szela, 52, were sitting in a utility truck. Just moments before the tornado hit, McNamara looked into the sky.

"I said to my partner, ‘Wow, look at all those birds.’ He said, ‘Those aren’t birds, those are shingles.’ I said, ‘Oh my God, where’s my hard hat?’ I put it on and crouched down in the truck.

"I looked up, and I saw two street signs bending, and I then looked to my right and the patrol car just flipped over. It was amazing. It was very scary."

Promisel said he could feel the tornado lift the car into the air, then slam it upside down onto the curbside. The force of the crash crushed the roof and passenger’s side of the vehicle. The wind then spun the car like a top and pushed it back upright onto the roadside grass, where it landed perpendicular to its original position.

The whole event probably took no more than two or three seconds. But Promisel, a 16-year veteran and father of 4-year-old triplets, said time slowed down dramatically. Miraculously, he only suffered minor scrapes and bruises and some stiffness in his back.

Wearing a seat belt and police training that conditioned him to remain calm in a crisis were the two things that saved him from serious injury, or even death. Later, he thanked God over and over, as did Carmel Promisel, his wife of eight years.

"I never felt afraid," Promisel said. "I had more a sense of fascination. I was relaxed. I went along for the ride."

The practically new police car was totaled.

McNamara and Szela, the Con Ed workers, ran over to the wreck and found Promisel trapped, bleeding and covered with shards of glass. The trooper’s first words to them were, "Thank God, I wore my seat belt."

The Good Samaritans eased him out of the crushed car. While Promisel got some medical attention, they stayed on the scene to clear fallen trees and other debris from the street.

State Police Investigator Joe Becerra also got to the scene. He had just eaten some sushi at the nearby Oriental Diner and was aware of Promisel’s foray to Wendy’s.

"First I made sure he was OK, then I busted his chops," Becerra said. "I told him that’s what he gets for eating junk food."

Link to the article in The Journal News