N.Y. officers save 3 children after accident kills parents

Bradley Hope, Staff Reporter of the Sun
The New York Sun
Copyright 2006 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC
All Rights Reserved
An early-morning auto accident in Staten Island has left three children - two of them toddlers - as orphans, police officials said.

The family was traveling west on the Staten Island Expressway in a dark red minivan at about 4:12 a.m. yesterday when the driver lost control, sending the van careening into a tree and a concrete wall. The front of the vehicle immediately erupted in flames, passersby told police.

At about the same time, two highway patrol officers, Robert Albano, 38, and Kevin Mullane, 37, were parked on the side of the road about a mile ahead, watching for speeders. Within minutes of the accident, a driver pulled up behind them and told them there had been an accident.

As the officers swung their car around and sped to the spot where the van left the road, they could easily make out through the early-morning gloom that it was "engulfed in flames." Officer Albano bounded up the hill with Officer Mullane trailing behind, carrying a Halligan tool, a sledgehammer, and a first-aid kit.

Officer Albano used his elbow to knock out what remained of a partially shattered window on the side of the vehicle. The two pulled out a 9-year-old girl, a 3-year-old girl, and a 2-year-old boy, along with his car seat. They were unable to save Arturo Lopez-Mendez, 29, who was in the driver's seat, and Christina Guardado, 30, who was in the passenger seat.The family lived in Elizabeth, N.J., police said.

"The children were very upset, crying.They didn't have any idea what was going on," Officer Albano said. "They were pretty much in shock."

All the children had minor burns, cuts, and bruises, but weren't seriously injured.Several people pulled over and helped take care of the children until the paramedics arrived. They were all at Staten Island University Hospital last night. Officer Albano's elbow was in a cast, but doctors told him he didn't break any bones.

Highway accident police were investigating what caused the car to leave the road.

It wasn't the first time this weekend that police officers responded to a scene that will likely leave a haunting image in their memories.

A sharpshooter cop with three years on the job, Louis Gubitosi, 25, shot and killed a deranged man who was holding a woman at knifepoint in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn on Saturday. The man, Joseph Bernazard, 26, took the woman hostage after slashing the neck of another woman near Smith Street. According to news accounts of the incident, Bernazard was shouting that he was going to kill the woman. Officer Gubitosi fired a single shot through the man's neck.

The police commissioner, Raymond Kelly, yesterday praised the highway officers who saved the three children, as well as Officer Gubitosi.

"In the last 24 hours we were reminded once again how well our police officers respond in life-or-death situations. First with the rescue of a woman held hostage at knifepoint and then with the rescue of three young children trapped in a blazing vehicle," he said. "In both instances, the police officers performed superbly and lives were saved as a result." 

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