WOODBURY — A State Police sergeant lost his life on Thursday, September 2, when he and his police cruiser were swept away by rising flood waters in the area of Jack’s Bridge Road.
Sgt. Brian Mohl, age 50, a Woodbury resident who was serving that night as night shift supervisor at State Police Troop L in Litchfield, called Troop L to report that he was in distress shortly after 3:30 a.m. as heavy rain from the remnants of Ida caused flash flooding conditions across the northeast.
Troop L reportedly called the Woodbury Volunteer Fire Department, which led the effort to locate Sgt. Mohl, who was swept down the Pomperaug River.
Fire Chief Janet B. Morgan, the officer commanding the search and recovery operation, said “It was dark and the water was fast-moving. With Woodbury Firefighter Earl Gillette’s knowledge of that area of the river and the last ping [of the sergeant’s phone], we were able to find the car.
“The river’s edge was walked for over two miles, in terrible conditions of mud, rapid waters and with the darkness of night. The outcome was not what we wanted, but at least he was found.”
At its peak, the recovery effort involved 75 rescue personnel, Chief Morgan said. She called in nine local fire departments and had six boats, three helicopters and three drones as well as the State Police trying to locate Sgt. Mohl.
“We called in these resources to complete the task,” Chief Morgan noted. The first call came to the department at shortly after 3:30 a.m. Sgt. Mohl’s police cruiser was located within an hour, but he was not found until about 9 a.m., authorities said.
Local sources estimate the water peaked at six feet over flood stage. Sgt Mohl was near the entrance to Three Rivers Park, Hotchkissville, when he radioed he was being swept away.
Woodbury First Selectman Barbara Perkinson, who stayed with rescuers during the effort, told firefighters, “My heartfelt thanks and appreciation to everyone who worked tirelessly to locate and, hopefully, save Sgt. Mohl. Your dedication and determination to do everything in your power yesterday is beyond words.
“All of you stayed at your post until that awful outcome, that we prayed would not come, did arrive.”
During his career, Sgt. Mohl served in several barracks including Southbury, North Canaan, Bridgeport and Hartford. He leaves behind a wife and three children.
Gov. Ned Lamont ordered all flags to be lowered immediately and remain lowered until sunset on the date of interment.
“The passing of Sgt. Brian Mohl is a shock and a tragedy, and I am incredibly saddened by his loss,” Gov. Lamont said. “He dedicated his career and his life to public safety and protecting the lives of others. His tragic loss is a reminder of the dangers that State Troopers and first responders put themselves in every day when responding to emergencies, and they deserve our utmost respect.
“Sgt. Mohl served the people of Connecticut with honor and commitment, and for that he will have our eternal gratitude and respect. My heart goes out to his family, friends and colleagues at the Connecticut State Police, and I ask the people of Connecticut to keep him in their prayers.”
During a press conference on Thursday, September 2, Chief Morgan speculated Sgt. Mohl may have come across the water in the dark, but was unable to see the danger. The flooding occurred rapidly, she said, with everything looking normal at midnight and then water rising rapidly after that.
Woodbury crews had been out, she said, monitoring conditions throughout town. Several areas were seeing flooded conditions at the time.
State Police Trooper First Class Prido A. Muniz, speaking at the morning press conference, told news media that conditions initially made it difficult to search for and locate the officer, despite the presence of multiple fire departments and dive teams, the Trooper One helicopter, the Eagle II helicopter, drones, search dogs and the Coast Guard, as well as John Field, the Region 5 DEMHS coordinator.
As water in the river began to recede, crews were able to locate the partially submerged cruiser. They used debris to help break into the vehicle, but found it unoccupied.
Crews provided emergency medical assistance to the trooper both on the water and on shore, as they transported him to a waiting LifeStar helicopter, located at Mitchell Elementary School. He was then transported to Yale New Haven Hospital.
Trooper Muniz said the search and rescue teams faced a lot of hurdles initially. They were unable to get the boats out onto the river initially because of the raging flood conditions.
Trooper Muniz said he did not have the location where the car was found or where Sgt. Mohl was found, but crews brought Sgt. Mohl out of the water onto land at the end of River Bend Drive, the nearest street location to where he was found.
State Police have opened an investigation into the incident and will be taking measurements including how far Sgt. Mohl was found from his cruiser.
Even before the death was officially announced, Troop L barracks posted a picture of black bunting with #283 on it, and news crews noted a procession of troopers leaving Yale New Haven Hospital and heading north up Route 91 toward the medical examiner’s office.
At a press conference at 3:30 p.m. at Troop L in Litchfield, State Police Commissioner James Rovella confirmed the death, announcing the sad news that there had been a “line of duty death of a Connecticut State Police sergeant.”
State Police Col. Stavros Mellekas provided details, noting this was the 25th line of duty death for the State Police. “Troop L and every troop is devastated,” he said. He said emergency responders provided medical aid to the sergeant on water and on shore, but the sergeant was “presumed dead” in the helicopter and “confirmed dead” at Yale New Haven Hospital.
Col. Mellekas described Sgt. Mohl as one of the senior sergeants in the State Police and well-respected by fellow officers.
Fifth District Congresswoman Jahana Hayes said, “We are all devastated by this news.” She explained, “Every time an officer puts on his uniform and heads out the door, they’re putting themselves in harm’s way.” She said the sergeant was “out trying to protect us … out making sure other people’s families were safe.”
Gov. Lamont began his comments at the press conference by recalling he had attended the graduation of a new class of troopers just the previous week. “Exactly one week later, a trooper has given his life for the greater good,” he said.
In a social media post later in the day, Chief Morgan wrote, “On a personal note – I, Chief Morgan, would like to thank each and every person who has texted me or called me to personally ask on my well-being and that of my members. You will never know how much that has meant to me.”