End of Watch: August 31, 1954
Years of Service: 3
Badge #: 40
Cause of Death: Weather / Natural Disaster
National Memorial Panel: 48-W: 13
Trooper O'Brien drowned in East Matunuck while warning residents to evacuate the area due to conditions hazardous weather conditions from Hurricane Carol.
Trooper O'Brien assisted residents in evacuation from the area. He pushed a stalled car across the Potter Pond Bridge with his cruiser, then re-crossed the bridge to see if he could find others who needed help. He went door-to-door helping people in the increasingly urgent need to evacuate the area. When another car stalled, Trooper O'Brien helped them to safety over the bridge. The bridge, which was the only egress from the area, suddenly washed out.
Waves were crashing over Succotash Road when a citizen saw Trooper O'Brien in his cruiser and offered to go with him on foot to warn other residents of the impending danger. Due to the high winds and rising water, which was already up to their knees, they had to hold onto a utility pole and warn residents to move to higher ground. The two headed back to O'Brien's cruiser, which had now stalled from the rising water. O'Brien radioed the Hope Valley Barracks that he was abandoning his car and would walk to higher ground.
Locked arm in arm, Trooper O'Brien and the citizen proceeded to higher ground until a large wave crashed over them, separating the two men. The citizen saw that Trooper O'Brien had been carried out approximately 30 feet, and while trying to remove his raincoat, another large wave swept O'Brien into the debris-filled water. Knowing there was nothing he could do to help the trooper, the citizen was able to get on top of wooden debris and float to higher ground. O'Brien's body was recovered by his fellow troopers later that day.
O'Brien served in the United States Army during the Korean War. The morning of his death, Trooper O'Brien was sworn in for his second three-year enlistment in the Rhode Island State Police.
In 1955, Colonel John Sheehan presented the State Police Service Ribbon posthumously to Trooper O'Brien "for heroism displayed at the cost of his life while in the performance of his duty and engaged in the rescue of persons. . ."
Trooper O'Brien gave his life while in the performance of his duty and died upholding the highest traditions of the Rhode Island State Police and "In the Service of the State." He was the sixth member of the Rhode Island State Police to die in the line of duty.