Alexandra “Alex” Tavano knew something wasn’t right when her school bus to Lewiston-Porter High pulled up to a stop but the doors didn’t swing open. The kids outside were banging on the windows, asking to be let in.
Then someone announced that the driver had passed out.
What happened next would earn the 14-year-old a citation from the school board and accolades from her community.
Alex, a ninth grader, called out to the driver. “I said, ‘Bill, you missed them.’ But I could see something was off. Then I came up to the front and saw his head down and said to myself, ‘This can’t be good.’ ”
The driver was slumped over the wheel suffering from a medical emergency.
Even more alarming, the bus was still moving and drifting off the road.
Alex asked: “ ‘Can you hear me? I need you to respond to me.’ ”
The driver responded: “Yes.”
But the bus was rolling toward a ditch and his head was still down.
Alex calmly began giving him instructions: “I need you to take your foot off the gas.”
She then told him: “I need you to pull over to let these cars go by.”
Next, she instructed the driver to open the door, pull over and stop the bus.
In the meantime, the bus had continued drifting slowly more than 40 feet before finally coming to a stop.
Alex and fellow student Riley Johnston, 17, an 11th grader on the bus who quickly called 911 for help on her cellphone, were both honored with citations by the Lewiston-Porter School Board at their board meeting Tuesday.
“It was quick thinking,” said High School Principal Paul J. Casseri. “The bus had pulled up to stop [on Youngstown-Lockport Road] and the [driver] didn’t open the door. Alex could see the driver slumped over.”
“Within a couple minutes parents were on the bus,” said Casseri. He said one parent on the road was a paramedic and was able to help out.
Alex, a certified babysitter with CPR training, said she doesn’t know why she reacted, but knew she needed to do something and needed to stay calm. She said she also soothed some of the younger students who ride the high school bus, after the parents arrived.
Both Casseri and Superintendent R. Christopher Roser said they didn’t realize what an important role the students had played before parents and paramedics arrived to take control in the incident.
“We knew a parent who was also a paramedic came on the bus, but we didn’t give the kids enough due credit for getting the driver alert and pulled over,” said Roser. “Just the fact that [Alex] came to front [of the bus] and didn’t just sit there paralyzed – she took the initiative and realized that she had to come forward, rather than being passive. She did a great job.”
“Alexandra is a very purposeful ninth grader. If you had somebody who was going to take charge, you could tell this kid had a vision and knew what she had to do,” Roser said.
Alex’s father, Jerry, said he and his wife, Colleen, are very proud of her
“We were nicely surprised by the honor. We try to raise them right and teach them to help others,” said Tavano of his children.
He said his daughter called him from the bus afterwards in total disbelief about what had happened. He said she was surprised at the time that some of the older students weren’t doing anything, so she jumped up to help.
“She wasn’t thinking about herself. She was worried more about the driver,” Tavano said.
Alex is a member of the Lew-Port Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corp, the girl’s lacrosse team and the varsity swim team, and also plays soccer for Niagara Pioneer.
She said in the future she would like to be a law enforcement officer, join the United States Navy or go into the CIA.
“I guess this was kind of like my debut,” said Alex of her future plans to help others.
Roser said of the citation, “We’ve been trying to do this for a while at Lewiston-Porter. Not just something like this, but whenever a student or a staff member does something exceptional we bring them in and give them a citation from the school board.”
Roser said the bus driver has taken a medical leave since the incident and is not driving. He was also invited to the board meeting, but has been hospitalized and was unable to attend.