Written by Marilou Giammona Friday, 21 October 2011 00:00
School’s open— drive carefully! That slogan has been around since 1946, when AAA launched a campaign to lower school-related pedestrian fatalities. The true meaning behind that safety message was driven home at Stewart Manor’s Board of Trustees meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 4, when village code officer Sam Sirignano was recognized for a “heroic act” that helped avert a tragedy at the Stewart Manor School on Wednesday, Sept. 8.
“Sam Sirignano, our code officer who is here with us tonight, performed a very heroic act this past month,” said Stewart Manor Mayor James J. Kelly. “The first day of school … Sam saw a car jump the curb and start to roll across the grass towards the doors of the school. There was no driver in the vehicle, and, in fact, there was a disabled person in the backseat. Seeing this, Sam completely disregarded his own safety, jumped in the vehicle and stopped it before it got to the school,” Kelly recounted. “That first day of school could have turned into a terrible, terrible tragedy, and I would like to publicly recognize Sam for what he did. He went way above and beyond his duties. He prevented a terrible, terrible tragedy,” Kelly said, as he presented Sirignano with a plaque on behalf of himself and the board of trustees.
Sirignano, who has been a Stewart Manor code officer for nine years, has taken it upon himself to help out at the Stewart Manor School on weekday mornings. “We have a safety patrol group of parents who are there in the mornings to help students out of the car so that we don’t block traffic along the street,” said school principal Hope Kranidis. “Cars pull up to the area by the hydrant and parents open the car doors. Sam is always there to monitor it,” and often fills in for absent patrol members, Kranidis said.
But on the morning of Sept. 8, the first day of school, “the code man,” as he’s affectionately known at the Stewart Manor School, “went above and beyond the call of duty,” Kranidis said. As Sirignano was monitoring morning drop-off, he noticed a large SUV which was parked in a handicapped parking space along Dover Parkway, jump the curb and start to cross over the grass, heading directly toward the entrance doors to the school.
“At first, I thought there was just a woman driving up on the grass, but everything came to me when I saw the car coming toward the school,” Sirignano recalled. “The car was in the handicapped spot then jumped the curb. I was about to say, ‘What are you doing on the grass?’ then it all came to me, and I ran toward the car … everything clicked.” Thankfully for Sam and for the children standing just inside the school doors – a mere 10 feet from where the SUV finally stopped, Sirignano estimated — the car door wasn’t locked. “There was [an elderly woman] sitting in the back screaming. Like I said, everything just clicked. I ran, opened the door, and first stopped [the car] with my hand, then I jumped in and hit [the brake pedal] with my foot,” he said. The driver of the vehicle was nowhere in sight, he added.
If it were not for the inclement weather that morning, many of the students would have been lined up outside the doors. “Thankfully, it was a rainy day, so the preschoolers, who usually line up right outside the door by the hedges, were inside; otherwise there would’ve been a bunch of little kids outside,” Kranidis said.
After stopping the vehicle, Sirignano immediately headed into the building to alert Kranidis of the situation. The two headed back outdoors to find and question the driver of the SUV, who was visibly shaken and insisted she shifted the car into park. “We went out and spoke to the mom. The mom was very shaken, and she said, ‘I don’t know, I put the car in park,’” Kranidis said. Sirignano confirmed that the vehicle was not in park when he jumped in to stop it, adding that the driver suggested that perhaps there was something wrong with her car.
“My concern is those kids behind that door. They gather behind that door,” Sirignano said, still a bit shaken himself, thinking about what could have happened that day.
“It really was an act of heroism,” Kranidis reiterated. “He’s really a part of our community,” she said.