USACE, Baltimore District project manager saves child from Pasadena waterway

USACE, Baltimore District
Published Nov. 14, 2023
Official Headshot of Zachary Sandonato

Official Headshot of Zachary Sandonato

Zachary Sandonato, a project manager with the Baltimore District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, along with his wife Nicole, saved a 4-year-old boy from a waterway near their Pasadena, Md. home Nov. 3.

The Sandonato’s heard an unusual sound while walking through their neighborhood along the water’s edge of Rock Creek, which flows into the Patapsco River. They quickly spotted a young child floating on their back. Without hesitating, Zach ran into the chilly, waist-high water to retrieve the child, whose head was barely above the water.

After bringing the child to safety, the couple yelled to neighbors to bring towels to warm the crying child. Anne Arundel police arrived shortly after and told Zach and Nicole that a missing child report was issued for a 4-year-old with autism, who ended up being the child they just rescued.

The child was briefly evaluated by EMS and returned home to his family once his mother arrived shortly after. EMS evaluated the child briefly and his mother arrived shortly after. He was then able to return home to his family.

The boy wandered from his home and traveled down a nearby road that was once a boat ramp, where he is believed to have entered the water.

The Sandonatos, expecting a child of their own in just a few short weeks, later reflected on the incident, saying it was emotional for everyone involved.

“It could have been a very terrible situation,” said Sandonato. “I’m happy that he’s home safe and sound.”

Sandonato’s supervisor, David Robbins expressed his pride in Sandonato for acting so quickly to save a life.

“Zach’s quick and decisive actions to rescue the child prevented an otherwise tragic event from occurring,” said Robbins.

Born and raised in Maryland, Sandonato moved around the east coast throughout his adult life and returned to the state after attending the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Prior to his time with USACE, he was a Design Manager for the Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command at the United States Naval Academy.

Sandonato has been with the Baltimore District since August of 2023 working in the Program and Project Management Division, focusing on military construction projects. Most recently, Sandonato worked on the Community Living Center Replacement project in Perry Point which will provide long-term care for veterans.


The mission of USACE, Baltimore District, is to deliver vital engineering solutions in collaboration with its partners to serve and strengthen the nation, energize the economy, and reduce disaster risks. Of note, Baltimore District has an extensive flood risk management program in which it inspects nearly 150 miles of levee systems and operates 16 dams, translating to the prevention of more than $16 billion of flood damages to date. The district maintains 290 miles of federal channels, including dredging the Baltimore Harbor, from which most of the material is beneficially used for restoration missions, such as the expansion of Poplar Island in the Chesapeake Bay. The district has vast ecosystem for restoration missions that include restoring native oyster populations in the Bay. Baltimore District is the only district to operate a public utility — the Washington Aqueduct — that produces an average of 135 million gallons of drinking water per day at two treatment plants for approximately one million citizens living, working or visiting the National Capital Region. The district also cleans up formerly used defense sites, decommissions and deactivates former nuclear power plants, and performs cleanup of low-level radioactive waste from the nation’s early atomic weapons program.

Baltimore District executes a robust military construction program and provides real estate services. These civil and military missions and diverse engineering services support communities and warfighters, while addressing the ever-growing list of emerging national security requirements, and ultimately protect the nation.

Nicole Strong
443-878-2386 (cell)

Release no. 23-012