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Astorian halts bus after driver dies

Rachel Guzy is ambivalent about her newfound fame.

The 16-year-old Astoria resident skyrocketed to prominence citywide last week when her quick thinking helped spare a bus-load of day camp children from injury after a bus driver suffered a fatal heart attack behind the wheel.

She spent last Thursday morning in the “Good Day New York” studio being interviewed on live TV. Then she hopped on the train and headed out to Bayside’s Magic Carpet Day Camp, where she was back on the job as counselor for the elementary, school-age children two days after her heroic act.

“I feel guilty enjoying the publicity,” she said. “I feel terrible for the family. My prayers are with them.”

The incident occurred at 4:39 p.m. Aug. 18 at the corner of Hampton Street and Elmhurst Avenue, police said. The school bus with nine children returning from a bowling trip had just stopped for some drinks at a convenience store. The driver, 59-year-old Ramon Fernandez, left the bus doors open for ventilation as he pulled into traffic, Rachel said.

“We’re driving and he just kind of passes out,” Rachel said. “He looked like he was going to pick something up, but he didn’t.”

Instead, Hernandez slumped out of his seat and rolled out the door as the bus continued down the street at around 20 miles an hour.

“I flipped out,” said Rachel, who does not have a driver’s license, but had watched the bus driver while he parked the bus numerous times. “I just got up, put my foot on the brake, pulled the emergency brake.”

The bus lurched to a halt and Rachel leaped off the bus to check on Hernandez and dial 911.

“I had to go to the ER for an anxiety attack,” she said.

Hernandez was pronounced dead at the scene, police said. The city medical examiner’s office did not respond to requests for comment. News reports said he suffered a heart attack.

Magic Carpet Director Andy Foss praised the initiative of his young employee.

“Proud is an understatement,” he said. “She saved the day.”

Foss called Hernandez a “silent giant.”

“He was a respectable man who, to my knowledge, never missed a day of work and always cared about the kids,” he said.

The children on the bus with Rachel clearly adored the counselor.

“I love you for saving our lives,” 11-year-old Jackson Heights resident Allison Fajo told her last Thursday afternoon at another bowling alley.

“It doesn’t seem real, like we were in a dream,” said 11-year-old Nicole Doyle, also of Jackson Heights. “I didn’t think Rachel would react like that.”

Reach reporter Jeremy Walsh by e-mail at jewalsh@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 154.

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