Usually educators are applauded for their work in helping children, but a Park Avenue bilingual teacher recently came to the aid of a parent, saving the life of a man trapped underneath his moving car.
It was the perfect case of being in the right place at the right time. Milagros Santiago was running late to work on Wednesday, Sept. 7, so parked in the lot towards the left side of the school buiding, where parents also wait to drop their kids off.
As she pulled into the lot, she noticed a man underneath his parked, running van, working on something beneath the passenger tire with a screwdriver. She thought little of it, until she heard the screaming.
“I was getting my things and started to hear him yell,” Santiago said. “I turned to look and the car had started to move. The man was caught underneath the car.”
The man’s son, a fifth-grader at Park Avenue, was sitting in the back of the van and jumped out, and began screaming as the van started to drag his father, who could only be seen from the shoulders up. Santiago describes the scene as surreal.
“It was like time stands still, you can’t believe what you’re seeing,” Santiago said. “There were a few other people in the parking lot, but everyone was frozen.”
At that point, Santiago jumped into action. She ran towards the slowly moving van and began jogging alongside it, unable to jump in and grab the wheel because it was so high up. She then plunged herself headfirst into the van, and pressed down on the brake as hard as she could, before reaching over with her right hand to put the van in park.
“I just reacted, I didn’t think,” Santiago said. “It was only a few seconds, but it felt like it went on forever.”
When Santiago came around to the passenger side, a security guard was on the phone with police asking for an ambulance. The man was still under the car, caught behind the passenger side wheel, but was able to free himself. He was taken to the hospital and treated for leg, head, ear and shoulder injuries, as well as burns.
The van had moved 15 to 20 feet by the time it was stopped, and if Santiago had not sprung into action, would have continued towards a row of parked cars. Jillian Peralta, an ENL specialist at Park Avenue who arrived at the scene right after the car was stopped, said Santiago was calm and serious after the incident.
“It would have been awful had she not been there,” said Peralta. “The average person would be looking for help, but she was able to get in the car and stop it. It was the first thing that came to mind to do. She was his angel that day.”
While Santiago has not sought any attention for her heroic actions, her fellow faculty members showered her with appreciation during a recent faculty meeting, where she was honored for her quick thinking. The family of the parent she saved also sent a letter to the school, thanking her for her lifesaving actions.
“I happened to be in the right place at the right time,” Santiago said. “I don’t know what made me react, but thank God I was able to help.”