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16 year old saves the day!
Date: 2009/08/20 20:29 By: KatiePery Status: User  
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A quick-thinking 16-year-old girl - who doesn't even know how to drive - was hailed as a hero on Wednesday for saving a bus full of kids after the driver dropped dead behind the wheel.

"If not for Rachel, we could have been dead or at the hospital," Artemis Sacramone, 12, a camper at the Magic Carpet Day Camp, said Wednesday, a day after camp counselor Rachel Guzy's heroic act.

"You can only hope a counselor acts like she did," said Brett Tawil, owner of the Bayside, Queens, camp. "In the tragedy, we have a hero."

Rachel sprang into action after driver Ramon Fernandez collapsed and tumbled out of the bus as it roared toward an Elmhurst intersection Tuesday afternoon. Aboard the bus were nine children, ages 7 to 14, and Rachel, who doesn't even have a learner's permit.

Rachel quickly bounded into the driver's seat and pulled the emergency brake, slowing the vehicle before it crashed into a minivan.

No one was seriously hurt in the accident.

Fernandez was later pronounced dead, apparently from a heart attack.

Artemis was among a slew of campers, staffers and even the bus driver's relatives who hailed Rachel as a hero - but the quick-thinking teen from Astoria wasn't having any of it.

"I just did what I had to do," Rachel said Wednesday. "Everything went through my mind. I worried about the kids. I worried about the driver. I knew I had to react."

The trouble started just before 4:30 p.m. when Fernandez complained of being hot and stopped the bus outside a bodega, so Rachel could get him some water.

The campers had spent the afternoon bowling in Flushing and were on their way home.

After Rachel returned with the water, Fernandez continued along his route with the bus' doors open.

He was talking with Rachel when he suddenly collapsed as the bus approached the intersection of Hampton St. and Elmhurst Ave.

"Out of nowhere, there was a car coming and he just kept driving," said Rachel, a first-year counselor.

"He was slouched over. I thought he was picking something up, but then, next thing is, he rolls off the bus."

Several frightened campers began shrieking. Rachel didn't hesitate.

"I just jumped into the driver's seat, and the first thing I did was press down on the brake as hard as I could," Rachel said. "Then I pulled the emergency brake.

"I was a nervous wreck. I was shaking and I was crying. I couldn't breathe. It was the scariest thing I've ever had to do in my life."

Rachel, a junior at Bryant High School in Long Island City, said she had a sense of what to do because she had spent time messing "around with everything on the bus. I never knew it would pay off. I guess it pays to be curious."

Camper Nicole Doyle, 11, said Rachel's flash of courage didn't surprise her.

"She really cares about the kids," Nicole said. "The kids were her main concern. They always are."

As the campers and staff celebrated Rachel's heroism, Fernandez's relatives mourned the sudden loss of a man they described as a devoted dad and fierce protector of kids.

"He loved those children and would have done everything he could to make sure they were safe," Fernandez's sister Guillermina Rosa said before praising Rachel.

"She was a very brave young woman - to be only 16 and think to pull the brakes."

Fernandez, a married father from Valley Stream, L.I., with two adult children, had been a school bus driver for 15 years, relatives said

Fernandez's niece said Rachel's actions added a silver lining to the tragedy.

"This is a tragedy for us, but she just came through," Keila Fernandez said. "He did what he could. Until his last moment, he tried to stop the bus - but his heart took him away."
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