Pierson Grad Honored as Riverhead Police Officer of the Year

Riverhead Police Officer Kaley Castantine, right, with her grandmother, Cynthia Burns, at the awards ceremony on February 8. Courtesy photo

Kaley Castantine says she always knew she wanted to be a police officer, even before she graduated from Pierson High School in 2006. She followed through on her dream, joining the Riverhead Police Department in 2014 — which she said brings new challenges every day.

Last October, she found herself diving into Long Island Sound to rescue a man who had driven into the water and whose vehicle sank 75 to 100 feet off of Roanoke Beach.

“I couldn’t see anything. It was pitch black,” Officer Castantine recalled in an interview this week.

Witnesses were pointing to where she had to go, so she disrobed and swam out. “I had a window breaker and a seat belt cutter,” she said. Finding the car underwater, “I started as hard as I could bashing out the back window. I ended up breaking the rear window. At that point the current was pretty strong. I was feeling for occupants. I started in the back seat, and I’m going up and down for air. I didn’t even notice I was getting cut by the glass that I broke. Your adrenaline is going so quick.”

Sadly, the driver didn’t survive. But for her quick thinking and bravery, Officer Castantine was honored on February 8 by the Riverhead Police Benevolent Association as its Officer of the Year.

She said being acknowledged in this way felt rewarding. “It was pretty amazing,” she said. “I work with some really good guys. In this job, you don’t think — it’s fight or flight. That’s what they say, you go into it or run away, and I always just go into it. You just don’t know what you’re getting into.”

Officer Castantine, who was a part-time officer in Riverhead in 2014 before becoming full-time in 2016, and who now lives in Westhampton, said it’s a little scary to be a police officer these days, but said she maintains a feeling of empathy while she is on duty.

“I’m just like you out of this uniform. I’m a normal human,” she said.

She acknowledged her grandparents, Larry and Cynthia Burns, for raising her to be the person she is. She also said her late friend, New York City Police Detective Brian Simonsen, who was laid to rest last week after being killed in the line of duty, was very inspirational to her.

“He always told me to stay safe and do what you love,” Officer Castantine said. “The police community is very small when you become an officer. He did have a lot of impact.”

Riverhead Police Officer John Morris, the Riverhead PBA vice president, presented Officer Castantine the award. “She chose to put her own life on the line in an effort to save another human’s life,” he told the Riverhead News-Review.