Hero teacher saves group of students from runaway car at Linden school

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LINDEN, NJ — On the first day of school at Joseph E. Soehl Middle School on Wednesday, Sept. 8, it was the quick thinking of an attentive teacher that saved the day and averted a tragedy.

According to a surveillance video taken by the school’s security system, a parent jumped out of their car to drop off their child’s iPad, without realizing the vehicle had begun to roll forward onto the sidewalk toward a group of students. School health and physical education teacher Valerie Tauriello, who was outside on drop-off duty that morning, jumped into the moving vehicle and stopped the car before the situation turned into a disaster.

Tauriello was wearing a boot on her foot from an old injury, but Linden High School’s head softball coach didn’t let that stop her.

“As soon as Ms. (Debbie) Okun told me the car was moving, I immediately notified another teacher ahead of the car to get the kids away and I yelled over ‘No one is in the car!’” Tauriello said on Friday, Sept. 10. “My natural instincts kicked in and I just knew I had to do whatever I could to stop the car.”

Without hesitation, Tauriello said she ran to the side of the car and got inside. While Tauriello was behind the wheel, the parent ran out of the school and to the front of the car, attempting to stop it from rolling with their body strength. Luckily, at the moment, Tauriello was able to put the car in park. The crisis was averted, and Tauriello is now considered a hero for her bravery.

“I was in shock, but I just went for it,” Tauriello said. “It was actually more difficult than I expected it was going to be. At first, I didn’t make it in, so I ran up a little more and just gave it one strong hop and I got in, hit the brakes and put the car in park.… I managed to give it my best effort to stop the car.… The students were moving out of the way.”

During the ordeal, Tauriello said she was not afraid, except when the parent attempted to stop the moving vehicle. Despite the acclaim, Tauriello said she’s no hero.
“Not at all,” Tauriello said. “I just went into a zone to get that car to stop. The only thing that did scare me was when the driver ran in front of the car to try and stop it. It feels good (to be considered a hero). It is just in my nature to protect my students always, as if they were my own children.”

Now that Tauriello has seen the surveillance footage many times, she said she’s happy she was there to prevent a situation that could have been terrible.
“I watched (the surveillance footage) several times,” Tauriello said, “and all I could keep saying was, thank God I was able to get there.”

Joseph E. Soehl Middle School Principal Gwendolyn L. Long praised Tauriello’s unwavering bravery and said she felt thankful Tauriello was able to do what she did.

“Valerie instinctually knew that the safety of our students is paramount,” Long said on Monday, Sept. 13, “and therefore did what she felt was necessary to save our students and staff. I am very much appreciative of the dedication and love that Ms. Tauriello has for our students and school community. I am so grateful to have teachers such as Ms. Tauriello educating and supporting our students.”

Outside with Tauriello at the time of the incident was Joseph E. Soehl Middle School paraprofessional Debbie Okun, who told Tauriello the car was moving, which sparked Tauriello’s heroic actions.

“I couldn’t believe she was doing this, jumping into the car,” said Okun on Monday, Sept. 13. “I was hoping she wouldn’t get hurt. She’s awesome.”

Photos Courtesy of Gary Miller