OSWEGO, NY – Assemblyman Will Barclay presented a pair of local heroes with NYS Assembly Resolutions honoring them for their life-saving efforts in January.
Lori Lawton, an Oswego City School District bus aide, and Jack Zeller, a bus driver for the district, were honored at the Transportation Center during a brief ceremony March 11 attended by dozens of their friends, family and co-workers.
An earlier ceremony was planned but had to be rescheduled due to a snowstorm that day.
January 13 had been just another typical school day for seventh grader Dillon “D.J.” Gibson. It almost had a tragic ending.
Lawton, a line server at Oswego High School, also works for the district as a part-time bus aide and had the afternoon bus assignment that day.
Other students on the bus alerted her that DJ was choking on something (a piece of candy cane), she explained.
She ran back to him and saw that he was turning blue.
She grabbed him by his right arm, pulled him up, put her arms around him and started to do thrusts on his chest.
Lawton was able to dislodge the obstruction in his throat.
“I was riding on the late run out of the middle school and did a bus check of students twice. I went back toward the front of the bus to check on the other kids when a student shouted, ‘D.J. is choking!’ I looked back to see him slumped back in his seat and he was starting to turn blue,” Lawton said following the incident.
There other students didn’t panic; they moved aside to provide her room, Lawton noted.
“I was just eating a candy cane and I started to choke,” DJ said in an interview with the district’s public affairs officer. “I knew what was going on and I was a little bit scared. But, it was really nice of her to do what she did for me.”
Zeller radioed 911 immediately for assistance, and was the line of communication between Lawton and emergency crews.
He pulled the bus over to the shoulder along Route 48 and “within minutes EMTs from the Minetto Volunteer Fire Department were on the scene. An Oswego City ambulance also responded and D.J. was transported to Oswego Hospital where he was treated at the Emergency Department and later released.
“When I heard the news of what happened on that bus, I thought about my own family. It could have been one of my kids on that bus,” said Barclay, the father of two young boys. “It could have been anyone’s child. Lori and Jack’s quick work saved a life. I am pleased to present this resolution to you today, on behalf of New York State, commending your quick actions as well as your coordinated effort.”
The resolution passed the Assembly unanimously and is part of the official state record.
“The safety and security of our children is of paramount importance. The quick, efficient and professional response of bus aide Lori Lawton and bus driver Jack Zeller to aid a choking child averted a potential tragedy. I am very proud of both of them,” said Superintendent of Schools Bill Crist. “For the entire Oswego City School District, I would like to thank them for their life-saving effort.”
“If this would have happened to any one of you, on any of your buses, you all would have done the same. You would have stepped up and done what needed to be done,” Crist told the pair’s co-workers.
“It’s a delight to come up here and honor two people who are heroes,” the assemblyman added.
Lawton kept her composure as she worked to dislodge the obstruction from DJ’s throat. “When it was over I was scared, frightened and cried,” she admits.
“Nothing like this has ever happened to me before. I’ve been a bus aid for the past two years. I really feel the training that my boss (Oswego City School District Transportation Director Tom Gunn) provides helped me. This is probably bigger than it should be, but I was just doing my job,” she said in January.
“I’m just thrilled that it came out the way it did,” Zeller said Friday.
“I am proud of Lori’s action. I commend both her and Jack for keeping our kids safe. Each month we conduct training on different safety topics with all of the members of our staff. It is our most important job…to keep our kids safe,” Gunn added.
As a result of their actions, Assemblyman Barclay’s office is nominating Lawton and Zeller for the American Red Cross Real Heroes event.
“This is the least we can do for such a tremendous deed,” the assemblyman said. “They acted out of pure, selfless instinct and I am pleased to commend this team today.”