Police lieutenant honored for daring, life-saving rescue right before retirement

Just one month before retiring, Marblehead Police Lt. Sean Sweeney Sr. risked his life to rescue a woman in choppy waters off Point O Rocks Lane in December.

Responding to a call, Sweeney found a distraught woman on slippery rocks, with waves crashing in. Suddenly, the woman was in the water.

Police Lt. Sean Sweeney Sr., center, is surrounded by friends and family. Left to right: Miriam Valkenburg, Officer Sean Sweeney Jr., Nick Valkenburg and Officer Charles Sweeney. COURTESY PHOTO

“Lt. Sweeney immediately jumped in the frigid water to assist the woman back to safety,” according to Officer Dennis DeFelice, who also responded to the emergency. “As he was waist deep in the water, holding onto a shore rock with one arm, he seized maybe the only opportunity to grab her as the tidal surge brought her back in.”

Sweeney, with DeFelice’s help, pulled the woman from the water and held her secured to rocks until a fire rescue boat arrived. With the help of Marblehead firefighters and police, the woman was transported up the rocks and to safety.

“Lt. Sweeney performed exceptional acts, above the normal call of duty, on the ocean’s edge that day,” Chief Dennis King wrote in an official letter of commendation presented to the Select Board on Jan. 5. “He risked his life, showed superlative courage, and because of his quick decision making, saved a person’s life. His valor, or boldness and determination, in facing great danger is worthy of the highest commendation.”

King told the Marblehead Current that this kind of rescue is pretty rare.

“I do believe that if it wasn’t for his decisive action, she would’ve been taken out by the tide. The water temperature was in the 40s. That takes your breath away.”

Sweeney declined to comment on his heroism. “He doesn’t believe it was extraordinary,” King said. “He says he did it all instinctively.”

Sweeney retires on Jan. 12 after 25 years of service with the Marblehead Police. His sons, Charles and Sean Sweeney, Jr., also serve on the department.

“He gave them the path to follow of exemplary service,” King said. “It’s a nice tradition of decades of service.”

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Leigh Blander is an experienced TV, radio and print journalist who has written hundreds of stories for local newspapers, including the Marblehead Reporter. She also works as a PR specialist.

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