WEST ORANGE, NJ — On Feb. 28, at approximately 1:50 p.m., while assisting with Seton Hall Preparatory School’s dismissal and pickup of students, as well as stopping traffic for the school bus departure, employee Tom Ronnie was approached by a freshman, later identified as Michael DeStephano, who informed him there was a woman in a car with the doors locked and he didn’t think she was breathing, according to a press release from the township. Ronnie relayed that information to Dean of Students Mark Smith, who was also outside on the traffic detail, as well as to school secretary Stephanie Gallo, who called 9-1-1.
When Ronnie arrived at the woman’s vehicle, SHP junior Thomas O’Rourke and an unidentified adult male were frantically attempting to open the doors and break the windows. Ronnie looked inside and saw the woman, the mother of an SHP freshman, slumped over toward the center of the vehicle, being held up by her seat belt. She was motionless, had vomit and blood coming from her mouth and did not appear to be breathing. Ronnie attempted to break the glass of the driver-side rear door with his portable radio, but the radio broke so Ronnie found a large rock nearby and gained entry with it.
Ronnie immediately smelled a strong, noxious odor as he reached in and unlocked both doors. He yelled to Smith to get the woman out quickly because there were fumes in the vehicle. These fumes burned Ronnie’s eyes, mouth and lungs from just one breath. Smith and the unidentified adult male pulled the woman from the vehicle and laid her on the grass. She took a very shallow breath, and had a very faint pulse, but as she got more fresh air away from the fumes of the vehicle, she began to take deeper and more regularly spaced breaths. Ronnie talked to her, telling her to squeeze his hand if she could hear him. He felt a little squeeze on his fingers. The first West Orange police officer arrived on scene in three to four minutes, shortly followed by West Orange fire and EMS, who took control of the scene.
While everything was transpiring, Ronnie and Smith realized that visible fumes in her car were coming from the large boxes in the rear of her vehicle, marked cookie dough and dry ice. That information was relayed to EMS.
The woman and her son were transported to Mountainside Hospital in Montclair for further treatment. She was admitted overnight and released the following day. She is home recovering.