MAHOPAC, N.Y.— Mahopac’s Cullen Malzo is probably going to have to have an addition built onto his house to accommodate all his medals and certificates.
Malzo, 19, received four awards at the Carmel Town Board meeting last week—including the Liberty Medal, the state’s highest honor that can be bestowed upon a civilian—for his heroic efforts in rescuing two teenage girls from Lake Mahopac after their car flipped over and landed in the frigid water on the evening of Nov. 10.
Sen. Terrence Murphy (40th District) was at the Dec. 7 meeting to present Malzo with the Liberty Medal before a standing-room-only crowd, which included Malzo’s family, as well as the two girls he rescued and their grateful families.
“In life, the good Lord puts you in places you are supposed to be. On Nov. 10, he put you in your driveway [on North Lake Boulevard] for a reason: to save two girls who are both with us here tonight,” Murphy told Malzo. “What you did was absolutely heroic. We are not going to two funerals. Instead, we are here to appreciate a local hero.”
Murphy stressed how rarely the Liberty Medal is awarded.
“This is not just given out; I have to apply for this through the New York State Senate and there are very few people in the state who get this medal,” he said. “It is presented for exceptional valor and dedication on behalf of the people of New York State.”
Assemblyman-elect Kevin Byrne was at the meeting on behalf of current Assemblyman Steve Katz and presented Malzo with a proclamation.
“I am a resident of Mahopac and it’s nice to know we have neighbors like you looking out for us,” Byrne said to Malzo. “I was the victim of a bad car accident earlier this year and have been trapped in a car waiting to get out and it is scary, scary stuff. We are fortunate that we have some really great first responders but sometimes it can take a little while for them to get to you. So, to have someone like you to take that initiative to go out there and put your own life at risk and save these two ladies, it really is heroic.”
Before presenting him with the town’s own proclamation, Supervisor Ken Schmitt told Malzo that he behaved like a “seasoned first responder.”
“You sprang into action without giving it a second thought about your own well-being,” the supervisor told him. “It’s incredible that you had the presence of mind and instincts to do what you had to do and the outcome was that you saved two 17-year-old girls who were in trouble; they were in serious trouble. You were able to rescue them from their overturned vehicle that was in the lake. Not only was it in the water, it was in about a foot of mud and silt.”
Schmitt said Malzo’s actions were not the typical behavior of a 19-year-old.
“I know jumping into the cold water wasn’t on your agenda that day, but everyone in this room is so thankful that you did,” Schmitt told Malzo. “Most 19-year-olds don’t think that way. Most would have just stood there videotaping it on their phones. But you immediately sprang into action. We have two young ladies who are with us here tonight because of that and we are extremely proud. We want to acknowledge your heroics and your bravery.”
Putnam County Sheriff Donald Smith stepped to the podium to award Malzo the Putnam County Sheriff’s Life Saving Certificate of Commendation and noted that the honor was being given out on Pearl Harbor Day.
“I think this very symbolic that this is being presented tonight on the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor,” Smith said. “That was a day of infamy, and it created what has become known as the greatest generation— a generation of heroes. It is nice to know that we still have heroes in the United States of America.
“We are recognizing you because you are a citizen and a young man with your whole life ahead of you and you have saved two lives,” the sheriff added as he handed Malzo the award and shook his hand.
Smith noted that Malzo’s brother, Joe, is also somewhat of a hero. He’s a specialist in the U.S. Army who will soon be deployed to Kuwait. Joe Malzo was in the audience and the sheriff thanked him for his service.
Taking the podium, Cullen Malzo thanked the audience and the elected officials for the honors that had been bestowed on him.
“I am truly honored that I am being recognized,” he told the crowd. “I can’t really put into words how I feel, but I am really appreciative.”
Malzo took time to speak with Mahopac News before the meeting and admitted that he’s gotten a lot of attention since the story of his heroics broke last month (it appeared on all three local TV networks after Mahopac News broke the story, and it set a record for most views on this paper’s website and its Facebook page).
“I get a lot of recognition,” he said. “It’s ‘hey, you’re the guy who saved those two girls,’ but not much else has changed and I like it that way. It does feel good to be the one who helped those girls and if I was in that situation, I would hope that someone would help me.”
Malzo said it was part luck because he just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
“I didn’t see the car go in the water, but I heard it and when I walked down the driveway I saw it and it kind of freaked me out,” he said.
He said the girls he pulled from the water, Mahopac High School seniors Dana Circelli and Julia Brower, were extremely grateful for what he did.
“They are so thankful and I do appreciate that because they are good families as well,” he said. “We have created a little friendship out of it, which is great.”
Malzo said has gotten some phone calls and texts from strangers congratulating him, but most of the kudos have come via social media.
“I got a lot of phone calls and a few texts, but it’s mostly on Facebook,” he said. “They say, ‘you don’t know me, but we heard your story and are amazed by it.’”
He also was treated to a free haircut from Magic Clippers in Somers.
Brower and Circelli told Mahopac News they were both “extremely grateful” for Malzo’s actions and they, too, had become minor celebrities since the accident.
Circelli had to leave town the day after the accident for a trip to Orlando with the high school band and missed most of the commotion, which she said had calmed down somewhat by the time she got back.
“I was alone and had to answer all the questions,” Brower said with a laugh. “[Classmates] wanted to know every detail. I told them that we landed in the grossest part of the lake.”
Circelli said the enormity of what had happened didn’t strike her right away and neither girl remembers much about the actual crash.
“It didn’t really hit me till I got home and was taking a shower and noticed I had these cuts all over my body,” said Circelli, who also needed a couple of stitches behind her ear to close a cut.
But other than that, the two teens suffered no further injuries, which was deemed somewhat of a miracle by the employees of the body shop thattook in the mangled car.
“They told me they were surprised we even made it out of there,” Brower said.