Bradenton officer saves a life and may one day sing about it

rdymond@bradenton.comJanuary 20, 2014 

Bradenton police Sgt. Anthony "Tony" Cerniglia with his girls, including Madeline, 6, and Abigail, 5. On Jan. 12, Cerniglia helped in a rescue, when he talked a mother, who was distraught, out of jumping off the Ninth Street Bridge. PROVIDED PHOTO

BRADENTON -- The call came in at 3:45 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 12, just when Sgt. Anthony "Tony" Cerniglia, supervisor of patrol at the Bradenton Police Department, was about to do roll call.

BPD dispatch was on the phone with a woman who apparently wanted to jump off the Ninth Street Bridge over the Manatee River.

Cerniglia yelled out to Lt. Jeremy Giddens: "Jeremy, take the meeting. I'm going to the bridge."

Cerniglia ran to his patrol car and raced north on Ninth Street to the bridge.

He saw a white sport utility and a pickup truck that had been in an accident, with a woman standing on the side of the bridge.

Cerniglia jumped out of his patrol car and yelled to the woman: "It can't be that bad. Come here and give me a hug!"

That's what Erin Carnes did rather than throwing herself off the bridge.

"I told her it would be OK," Cerniglia said Friday. "I said we would get some care for her."

Whether it was Cerniglia himself, his husky voice or what he said -- or a combination of all three -- that made Carnes reach for his hand and fall into his arms is unknown.

Moments after the rescue, two other Bradenton Police Department officers pulled up, including Officer Michael Waker, who knew Carnes, Cerniglia said.

"Michael had a history with her and they started talking," Cerniglia said. "She was OK then."

As he talked Carnes off the bridge, Cerniglia didn't know she had just left her 1-year-old child by a mailbox by a home in the 1600 block of 17th Street East in Palmetto, according to a Manatee County Sheriff's Office report.

Carnes was then involved in an accident on the bridge before Cerniglia found her. Carnes was later taken to the Manatee County jail on a charge of child abuse

Cerniglia's colleagues at the Bradenton Police Department were not surprised the 15-year veteran knew exactly what to say to Carnes.

"Sgt. Cerniglia's experience and compassion was displayed when he saved this person from drowning or injury," said Deputy Chief Warren Merriman.

Cerniglia, 42, who grew up in West Milford, N.J., and has five sisters and a brother, said he was thrilled the story had a positive outcome.

"It always feels good to save a life," Cerniglia said.

So, how did he know what to say?

"It's just years of experience," said Cerniglia, the first police officer in the family. "I'm nice to people. Usually, if you are

nice to people, you get a nice response. I always try to explain that to the guys. You get more bees with honey."

Cerniglia's unusual voice sounds like a cross between Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. He is said to have the soul of a country music singer, something he would like to try sometime onstage.

He often gets teased about it, he said.

"I always get kidded about it at work, mocked a bit. I would say Lt. Kevin Bunch does the best imitation of me," Cerniglia said with a laugh, speaking of a colleague and close buddy.

Cerniglia recently discovered his voice, which sounds like parts smoke and whiskey, is actually caused by a paralyzed vocal chord. "I've probably had it since I was a child and never knew it," he said.

His vocal abnormality was never an issue until he became light-headed when reading bedtime stories to his daughters, Madeline, 6, and Abigail, 5.

"When I put my daughters to bed I read out loud," said Cerniglia who met his wife, Tammy, at Manatee Memorial Hospital where she is a nurse practitioner. "The reason I was light-headed is that my paralyzed vocal chord doesn't seal and air gets out, The seal is what keeps air in your system."

Cerniglia is getting surgery on the vocal chord in February. Doctors say his voice will change immediately.

"It's an outpatient procedure," Cerniglia said. "They keep you awake while they are working on the vocal chords so they can adjust it to get a good pitch."

Oddly, the paralyzed vocal chord never impeded him while working out.

"I can still run fast," Cerniglia said. "I run 20 to 30 miles a week and do cross-fit training. I recently ran a 'Tough Mudder' in two hours and 45 minutes."

"The vocal chord doesn't bother me unless I talk a lot or read a book out loud to the kids," Cerniglia added. "I want to finish a book for my kids. That's why I'm getting the surgery."

Cerniglia keeps his cool during all the kidding about his voice. He said he thinks he may be able to sing country music after the surgery and make some money at it when he retires from the force.

Cerniglia, however, said his name would not be easy for country music fans to remember so he plans to adopt a stage name.

"I've decided to call myself Kevin Bunch," Cerniglia said.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.

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