When an impaired driver with a toddler in the back seat refused to pull over on the Long Island Expressway, a Suffolk County highway patrol officer jumped through an open passenger window to stop the vehicle.
Officer Joseph Goss later called the dramatic moment his “window of opportunity.”
“I didn’t like the idea of doing it, but the opportunity was there,” Goss, a 10-year veteran, said Friday.
Police said Maria Lagatta, 37, of Farmingville, was traveling so slowly near Exit 68 during rain-slicked, rush-hour traffic Thursday evening — about 20 mph — that motorists called 911.
Shortly after 5:30 p.m., Goss caught up to the 1999 Ford Taurus before Exit 70, County Road 111, in Manorville, police said.
The driver refused to pull over, and as Goss drove alongside, he spotted the child in a safety seat — Lagatta’s 22-month-old daughter.
“As soon as I saw the baby, I gasped. I’m a dad myself,” Goss said at police headquarters in Yaphank.
His biggest concern, he said, was preventing a rear-end crash.
Goss rolled down his window to order Lagatta to stop. She lowered her passenger side window, but said she couldn’t pull over.
The officer had slowed traffic behind him by turning on his flashing lights, but his opportunity came when Lagatta slowed to about 5 mph. Goss sped ahead of the Taurus and parked on the right shoulder.
He then got out and ran to the passenger side of Lagatta’s car.
“That window she rolled down ... was my window of opportunity,” the officer would later quip.
He said he dove into the open window — and, with his feet dangling out, forced the gear shift into park.
“The baby was obviously very startled. What kind of child likes to see a stranger get in the car? So the baby was a little rattled,” Goss said.
Goss, who was not injured, took the keys and waited for backup officers to arrive.
The mother and daughter were not harmed, police said. The girl was released to a family member at the scene, authorities said, and Child Protective Services was notified.
Suffolk Chief of Department Stuart Cameron on Friday praised Goss’ quick thinking and “extremely brave actions that may very well have averted a tragedy.”
Lagatta was charged with driving while ability impaired by drugs, aggravated driving while intoxicated with a child passenger under 16 years, also known as Leandra’s Law, and endangering the welfare of a child.
She was to be arraigned Friday at the Fourth Precinct, police said.
It was Lagatta’s third arrest since 2014 for operating a vehicle while impaired by drugs, records show. Lagatta’s attorney could not be reached.
With Ellen Yan