'I just went in there' Custodian's heroic rescue saves two kids.

March 26, 1992|By McClatchy News Service

MODESTO, Calif. -- When he was a firefighter, Jack Maugeri would jump into a crisis and get the job done.

"Then I'd ask questions later," he said.

Those same instincts were at work Tuesday when Mr. Maugeri, 47, a custodian and groundskeeper at Stanislaus School in north Modesto, managed to jump into a driverless, out-of-control car in front of the school and stop it, perhaps saving the lives of two small children inside the automobile.

School staffers call Mr. Maugeri a hero.

"He actually risked his life to save those two kids," said Donna Lacazotte, the school's food-service manager, who witnessed the panicky scene. "I think this was a real heroic gesture on his part."

The youngsters were left in the car on Kiernan Avenue as their mother ran into the school to pick up another child, a kindergartner.

According to witnesses, the large four-door passenger car, traveling up to about 10 mph, started spinning backward in circles, crossing over both lanes of the street.

Principal Jerry Rhine said no one knew children were in the car until the mother started screaming.

"When I heard the lady say there was a baby in back, I just went in there," said Mr. Maugeri.

He approached the car, waited for it to come around, then started chasing it while grabbing for a door handle.

"I knew if I tripped, the car would run over me," he said. "You didn't know where that car was going to go. But I tried not to think about it."

Mr. Maugeri managed to put his foot on the brake and bring the car under control. The two children -- a 3-year-old girl in the front seat, a 3-month-old in the back -- were fine.

"The whole thing lasted about eight minutes," Mr. Maugeri said. "That mother was so scared, she said she would never do it again."

Mr. Maugeri, an eight-year veteran of the Stanislaus Union School District maintenance staff who once served as firefighter in the Navy, said he was happy to help out and prevent a potential tragedy.

"That little girl, she just looked up at me and smiled," Mr. Maugeri said. "I know I did the right thing."

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