HOMETOWN HERO — NYPD Officer Gary A. Tagliaferri is a 2000 graduate of Rome Free Academy. On Saturday, Oct. 6, while driving into work along the Taconic State Parkway, Tagliaferri suddenly found himself saving a family of five after their van overturned onto a guardrail. (Photo submitted)

Rome native helps save family on Taconic State Parkway

Published Oct 20, 2018 at 11:30am

TOWN OF YORKTOWN — There’s the right time. There’s the right place. And then there’s Rome native and New York City Police Officer Gary A. Tagliaferri helping to save a family of five on the Taconic State Parkway because he just happened to be passing by.

Three children had been thrown from the one-vehicle rollover. Their parents were trapped in the overturned van, the mother turning purple as she pressed up against her seat belt.

“It was a nightmare of a scene that was managed very well. Right place, right time, I suppose,” said Tagliaferri, age 36, in a recent interview.

Born and raised in Rome, and a 2000 graduate of Rome Free Academy, Tagliaferri has been with the NYPD for about 5 1/2 years. He was heading into work on Saturday, Oct. 6, when he came upon the crash.

“We were both just happy that we were able to help,” he stated.

By sheer coincidence, Tagliaferri said he was joined at the crash site by fellow NYPD officer Marco A. Morrone, whom he had never met. Both off-duty officers were simply driving along the Parkway when the crash occurred at about 6:30 p.m.

The crash

“The traffic is always a constant flow, and it came to a complete stop — the first indication that something is wrong,” Tagliaferri said. He explained that he had just dropped his children off with their mother, and he was headed down the Parkway into work in the Bronx.

Tagliaferri said he was six vehicles behind the crash. He said he got out and called 9-1-1 when he saw the black smoke, and he walked up to the overturned van as it rested on a guardrail.

“I just happened to hear the little sounds of a small kid, making noises, like he was in pain,” Tagliaferri stated. He spotted the 9-year-old boy lying in the grass on the other side of the guardrail.

Tagliaferri went to the boy and made sure there were no immediate injuries, and then he tasked two nearby civilians to watch over the boy. But the two civilians had already been given that order by NYPD Officer Morrone, who’d already stopped and was starting to help out.

Tagliaferri spotted Morrone nearby, attending to a second boy lying in the roadway. They quickly touched base with one another.

“It’s almost like an instinctual thing. We kind of, from there, just teamworked it out,” Tagliaferri said of meeting Morrone. They work in different divisions within the NYPD and had never before crossed paths.

He said the 12-year-old boy in the roadway was also not seriously injured.

“We obviously realized: OK, there are two children, where are the parents? We both ran down to the vehicle.”

Saving the parents

According to the state police accident report, Michael and Maria Morrison, both 51, of Queens, were southbound on the Parkway when their 2010 Honda Odyssey left the roadway, hit the guardrail and overturned several times. It finally came to rest on its side on the guardrail.

The family’s three children — a 12-year-old boy, a 9-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl — were thrown free of the vehicle.

Tagliaferri said the two officers found the girl at the rear of the van.

“She startled both of us,” Tagliaferri stated. The girl was disoriented and confused, and other civilians were put in charge of her while the two officers went to check on the parents, still trapped in the front seats of the Honda.

Tagliaferri said he climbed onto the guardrail to peer inside the front seats, where he found the Morrisons still trapped — the mother more so than the father. Tagliaferri said they could not find her pulse rate.

“All her body weight was thrown against the seat belt. The seat belt was cutting off her breathing around her neck,” Tagliaferri stated.

“She was purple.”

Tagliaferri pulled the father from the vehicle, while Morrone attempted chest compressions on the mother. Tagliaferri said he felt her head move on its own.

“I cut the seat belt with my knife and we both tried to stabilize her as best we could inside the vehicle,” Tagliaferri stated.

The two officers pulled the mother from the van, then they set her down in the nearby grass. A civilian nurse was on scene and started chest compressions, getting her breathing a short time later. She was still unconscious.

“With the help of the civilians, we were able to get her breathing on her own, get her extracted, get the father extracted,” Tagliaferri said.

Aftermath

Rescue crews eventually arrived and took over medical treatment for the family, authorities said. All five family members went to the Westchester Medical Center. Maria Morrison was in critical condition, and state police said she is expected to recover.

Tagliaferri said he spoke with the officers on the scene and eventually returned to his own vehicle.

“You’ve got to hit the reset button,” he said of decompressing after the accident.

He still had to go to work, after all.

“You don’t do this job for the awards, you signed up to do this job because you really want to help people,” Tagliaferri stated.

“Officer Morrone and I are just happy that we were there at that time and able to help in the capacity that we did, and that no lives were lost.”

State police said the accident remains under investigation.