Bus driver saves wandering toddler in Cayuga Heights

TCAT bus operators occasionally face delays due to traffic, weather and other circumstances outside their control, but a toddler wandering off alone in search of his dinosaur was a new one for bus operator Jack Shawley. Shawley was driving the Route 30 bus on the Parkway in the Village of Cayuga Heights one mid‑February morning when a 2‑ to 3‑year‑old boy all alone – clad in a coat but with untied boots, was toddling atop the snow bank between the sidewalk and the road. Going off schedule is never a good thing for drivers and passengers alike, but Shawley, a father of two, wasn’t about to leave the boy alone. It was decision that has earned him the respect of his passengers, his co‑workers, the TCAT Board of Directors, and most recently, the Village of Cayuga Heights Police Department. Shawley said he went into “father mode” and immediately pulled over to the side of the road, got out of the bus and approached the boy. “I said, ‘hey little buddy is that your house’ as I pointed to houses in the neighborhood, and he said ‘no,’ ” said Shawley, a father of two, who bundled the shivering child and took him on board the bus. Shawley then called a TCAT dispatcher, who, in turn, notified village police. Meantime, Shawley apologized to his dozen or so passengers for the interruption in service. His passengers, in turn, were very understanding and supportive, said Shawley, who continued to try to get information from the tot. “He would only tell me he was looking for his dinosaur,” said Shawley. “He was very intelligent and could tell me the colors of passing cars.” Police arrived shortly and fortunately recognized the child in order to be able to return him home. After handing his newfound little friend over to a police officer, Shawley returned to his route and informed his passengers of the situation. “One of the riders then said, “Hurrah for the driver!” and we all clapped and cheered,” recalled one of his passengers, Mark Vorreuter, manager of web and digital communications at Cornell’s College of Human Ecology. Village police officers also made sure to express their appreciation. “Your willingness to address the issue – when you did not have to – may have kept this situation from developing into a real tragedy,” wrote Sgt. Jerry L. Wright, Cayuga Heights Police Department, in a March 12 letter to Shawley. “It is this type of quality that you displayed on this day as an observant citizen to get involved that makes our community a safer place to work and live. It is with great pleasure that I say thank you for an act well done.” Vorreuter, a regular Route 30 commuter, was so impressed that he that very morning sent an email to TCAT managers congratulating Shawley’s efforts. Both TCAT General Manager Joe Turcotte and TCAT Board Chairperson Jennifer Dotson spoke of Shawley’s heroics while recognizing the hard work of all TCAT bus operators, mechanics and other employees at TCAT Feb. 24 employee recognition banquet. Turcotte noted that bus operators encounter a variety of situations in their daily work and read examples of bus operators taking extra steps to help passengers. “Jack is our youngest bus operator and he quickly adopted the spirit of going above the call of duty,” Turcotte said of Shawley, 24, who has worked for TCAT for more than two years. Vorreuter later said he and his fellow passengers were only too happy to endure a small inconvenience for what could have been a perilous situation. “He was very protective,” Vorreuter noted of Shawley. Shawley said he believes he reacted as anyone would in that situation. “We have a good group of drivers and anyone of them would have done the same thing,” said Shawley, the doting father of 3-year‑old Jack IV and a 7‑month‑old girl, Ashlyn. TCAT Operations Manager Nancy Oltz, who oversees TCAT’s team of bus operators, also congratulated Shawley for his compassion and professionalism. Both Oltz and Turcotte presented Shawley with a Certificate of Appreciation. “Our bus operators have to be aware of so many things at all times; they not only drive buses, but look out for the best interests for passengers and the community in general,” Oltz said. “We thank Jack for his good‑heartedness and we thank his passengers for being patient that morning for the slight delay – all in the best interest of a precious little boy.”

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