06/27/2000

COP CATCHES GIRL FALLING 30 FEET FROM ESCALATOR

The Record (Bergen County, NJ) -- One moment, Aldaniza Ferreras was trying on sunglasses at the Daffy's clothing store on Route 4 on Friday. The next moment, she said, she was screaming hysterically. While the Bronx woman had her back turned, her 3-year-old daughter grabbed hold of an escalator railing and took a terrifying ride up. The little girl then fell nearly 30 feet, into the waiting arms of Martin Gray, a 29-year-old Garfield police officer. "I don't know what I would have done if he wasn't there," Ferreras said in Spanish. "He's a hero." Gray, who moonlights as a security guard at the store, said he was at his post near the escalator when people suddenly began screaming. Some customers left behind merchandise they had paid for and ran out, not knowing what was happening. "I didn't know what was going on," Gray said. "I looked back, and I see a little girl hanging on the railing," he said, retracing his steps along the crawl space between the escalator and the wall. "I knew that she was going to get to the barrier and she was going to have to fall." "I just ran like this," he said, holding his arms out. Darlene Castallano fell headfirst. Gray caught her around her waist. Ferreras, her cousin, and their children had been shopping for some last-minute items for a trip to the Dominican Republic. She said they had stopped at a sunglass display at the foot of the escalator. As Ferreras tried on a pair of sunglasses, she said, her daughter got out of her stroller and grabbed onto the moving railing. When she turned, Ferraras said, her daughter already was halfway up the escalator toward the store's second floor. "I screamed like a crazy woman," Ferreras said. "I wanted to die. "Nobody knows what will happen in a split second." Ferreras said a girl saw what was happening and ran up the escalator, trying to save Darlene. But she could not get there in time. About a half hour after the paramedics arrived and checked Darlene, the youngster had recovered from the shock, her mother said. She was crawling on the floor and smiling, but was too shy to talk to a reporter. Ferreras said she was surprised by her daughter's strength. "She was holding on for her life," Gray said. Darlene had grabbed onto the same railing once before, her mother said. That time, she was snatched off by her father. The language barrier prevented Ferreras from fully expressing her gratitude to Gray. "Certain things you don't have to say," he replied. At 6:05 p.m., five minutes after Gray caught the girl, the officer's mother showed up at the Daffy's and learned that he was a hero. "I'm so proud. It's a miracle that he was there and he caught her," said the officer's mother, Elizabeth Gray. "He was a great baseball player in high school. "He would do this,"she said, raising her arm in the air, "and the ball was in his mitt."

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