SARANAC LAKE — State Police Trooper Frank Whitelaw maneuvered his cruiser to stop an out-of-control car from crashing near a busy downtown intersection.

Quick response likely averted any further injury to pedestrians or cars on busy village streets.

The unconscious driver, Gertrude Bickford, 89, had suffered an apparent stroke.

“I had just gone through the intersection of Broadway and Bloomingdale Avenue at about 11:25 a.m., heading toward the Saranac Lake Firehouse, when I saw a white station wagon coming into my lane. But there was a car in front of me,” Whitelaw said Tuesday.

“Then the driver in front of me took evasive action and swerved. As I got closer, I could see the driver in the oncoming vehicle …. Her head was back, so I ascertained she was probably unconscious. The car started to veer back into my lane, heading toward the sidewalk.”

The busy three-way intersection, with a stoplight crossing, is often congested at lunchtime with both cars and pedestrian traffic.

“I went straight ahead in my lane and brought it (the police cruiser) to a stop once I was in her path. Then she hit and came to a stop.”

The impact speed was between 5 and 10 miles per hour, Whitelaw estimated.

Mrs. Bickford, of Saranac Lake, was unresponsive and having difficulty breathing when he reached her.

“I called for rescue through our dispatcher, got out of the car and started to assess her condition. I realized she had probably suffered a stroke and made sure she had an airway open. We did rescue breathing for her until the ambulance arrived.”

State Police Troop B Major Richard C. Smith Jr. said Whitelaw went above and beyond the call of duty in both the crucial traffic maneuver and in providing emergency medical response.

“He did a full medical assessment of Mrs. Bickford. He actually connected her to the defibrillator (carried in the police vehicle) to detect her pulse, and the equipment told him not to shock her. He was giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, assisting with her breathing, when emergency personnel arrived.”

Mrs. Bickford was brought to Adirondack Medical Center but died later Monday evening, Smith said.

Whitelaw’s actions gave family members time to gather around their loved one.

All troopers in New York State Police receive first-responder training at the Police Academy.

“Trooper Whitelaw, myself and every member of this organization has gone through emergency medical training,” Smith said.

“They learn a full spectrum of first response to all types of emergency situations, from automobile accidents with lacerations and internal injuries, to cardiac arrest or respiratory arrest.”

But strategic driving to counteract further incident isn’t in the handbook.

“We don’t get specific training in that,” Whitelaw said. “But if it’s a last resort, we are taught to take any measure that’s reasonable.”

Within a split second, the trooper marked critical details and assessed the situation.

A 22-year police veteran, Whitelaw attributed his reaction to experience.

“With emergency situations, you tend to be a lot more observant. It seems like everything moves in slow motion.”

The sidewalks on Broadway were busy with midday activity Monday.

“We did have a lot of pedestrians that came over after the accident,” Whitelaw said. “The intersection got congested quick.”

The major commended Whitelaw’s response to the grave situation.

“One of the beauties of being troop commander is that you learn our members are infinitely talented in many respects,” Smith said, adding about Whitelaw: “He is going to get a letter of commendation that tells him his actions went above and beyond the call of duty. He did everything he was trained to do, quickly and in keeping with the finest traditions of this agency.”

E-mail Kim Smith Dedam at:

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