A police officer leaped into a moving car on the Long Island Expressway to save a toddler inside a dangerously slow moving vehicle when the driver would not respond to the police, authorities say.
Suffolk County police officer Joe Goss first spotted the woman driving at about 20 mph with a toddler in the backseat on the eastbound L.I.E. in Manorville, and when she wouldn't stop, he acted quickly.
"I roll down my window, and the motorist rolled down her window as well," Goss said Friday. "I told her to pull over, and with the window down she told me, 'I can't.'"
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Goss said he suspected right away she was high on drugs. Then he saw the 22-month toddler in the back of the car.
"When I saw the baby, I gasped and literally started doing [what he learned] to maneuver in highway patrol to slow traffic down to make it safer," he said, noting the road conditions were "extremely dark."
The driver, identifed by police as 37-year-old Maria Lagatta of Manorville, slowed down to about 5 mph, and Goss sped past her and parked on the shoulder. He then jumped into her car and through the passenger-side window.
"I didn't Superman into the car or anything like that," he said wryly. "I'm pretty tall so I was able to lean up. All I had to do was move one of my feet up, like a pool shot move. I was able to lean in, and so once I got my hand on it, her hand was on the shifter as well, so we just forced it right into park."
No one was hurt in the maneuver. Goss also said a good Samaritan driving nearby put their hazard lights on and was able to slow down traffic so that Lagatta's vehicle wouldn't get hit while he went to stop her. Goss called that driver "the unsung hero of this."
"All your training says, don't go into a moving car, and I didn't like the idea of it, but when the window of opportunity was there, and her speed is so slow, I jumped at it," said Goss, a 10-year veteran who's been with highway patrol for two years. "I'm fortunate it worked out the way it did."
Lagatta was arrested on charges of driving while ability impaired by drugs, aggravated DWI with a child passenger 15 years or younger and endangering the welfare of a child. She was expected to be arraigned at First District Court in Central Islip later Friday.
It wasn't immediately clear if she had an attorney who could comment on the charges.
Child Protective Services was notified, and police released her 22-month-old daughter to a relative.