A New Jersey middle school health and physical education teacher is being hailed a hero for leaping into a moving but driverless vehicle that was headed for a group of students gathered outside the building on the first day of class this week.
Valerie Tauriello, with Soehl Middle School in Linden, was outside on drop-off duty Wednesday when a parent jumped out of a car to deliver a student's forgotten iPad.
The vehicle wasn't in park -- and started to roll forward onto a sidewalk where students were standing, officials say. The parent wasn't anywhere near the car.
"So I figured I'm the only one who can get to this car right now," Tauriello said.
Tauriello, who is also the head softball coach for Linden High School, said her athletic training kicked in, despite the fact that she was wearing a boot on her foot for an old injury that was acting up.
“I know I can’t run that fast, so at first I was kind of frozen,” Tauriello said. “But I was like, 'Oh my God, I have to stop this car or it’s going to hurt somebody.'"
“It was very hard jumping into a moving car. I never realized that would be a difficult task," she added. "At first, I couldn’t really get in because the car was moving faster than I expected. So I just ran a little faster and just hopped in and put it into park."
School security cameras captured the entire ordeal and showed how fast it happened.
Before jumping into action, Tauriello says she shouted to another teacher, Frank Hasenauer, to get the students out of the way.
“I yelled, ‘Move the kids! There’s nobody in that car, you gotta move the kids!’" Tauriello recalled. She says Hasenauer told the students to move and "that's when I ran for it."
Tauriello credited paraprofessional Deborah Okun with flagging the moving car in the first place as Tauriello watched the parent run toward the school with the iPad.
“I’m just glad everybody’s OK,” she said. “It could have been bad.”
Soehl Middle School Principal Gwendolyn Long was effusive with praise for Tauriello, who she says thinks of students' safety first -- as if they were her own kids.
“She did not hesitate to risk her life to save our students,” Long said. “In a matter of seconds, she informed the father of what’s going on, informed the staff to get the kids out of the way, then thought enough to risk her life, because she could have gotten injured. This is the person she is, and this is every day with Ms. Tauriello."
No injuries were reported in Wednesday's incident.