Rich Lerner was honored by the Nassau County Fire Commission...

Rich Lerner was honored by the Nassau County Fire Commission for helping to save the life of a girl who was run over by a car while walking to school in Oceanside. Credit: David L. Pokress

Retired Oceanside firefighter Richard Lerner was driving to work one morning last September when he happened upon an accident: a 14-year-old girl was lying face down in the street after being hit by a car.

The girl, a freshman at Oceanside High School, was struck at 7:18 a.m. on Sept. 8 by a 1998 Lexus driven by a 63-year-old man at Foxhurst Road and Harvey Avenue, according to fire officials. The girl was unresponsive, wasn’t breathing and Lerner couldn’t find a pulse.

Still, with the help of others on the scene, Lerner performed CPR for four minutes — getting blood circulating through the teen’s system and helping keep her alive in the crucial minutes before the ambulance arrived, Uttaro said.

Now, four months later, Lara is talking and walking with the help of a walker, after her recent release from a rehabilitative hospital. On Sunday, Lara, her mother, stepfather and sister looked on as Lerner received the Nassau County Fire Commission’s meritorious service award during a ceremony attended by County Executive Laura Curran at the West Hempstead Fire Department.

“She’s a fighter,” Lerner said of Lara on Sunday. “We do a lot of training. Seeing her now, it makes every single second worthwhile.”

Lerner, a 30-year firefighting veteran and a Nassau fire marshal who has a son one year behind Lara in school, was emotional after the accident, but continued to work that day, Uttaro said. A police sergeant called him about a half-hour later to say that Lara had been revived at the hospital, was on a ventilator and going into emergency surgery. The driver stayed at the scene and was not charged, authorities said.

Lara, who had had multiple serious injuries, was initially taken to South Nassau Communities Hospital in Oceanside, then transferred to Cohen Children’s Medical Center in Queens, and then to a rehabilitative hospital in New Jersey, from which she was released Jan. 11, her family said.

“She had mortal injuries,” Uttaro said. “She’s one tough kid.”

Curran said “Mr. Lerner’s lifesaving actions were a result of experience and being well-trained. Events like this underscore the dedication of our first responders — especially our volunteers — who are dedicated to keeping us safe every day.”

Lerner’s emotions again were on display Sunday when Lara’s mother, Marialaina, who asked that Newsday not use the family’s last name, presented Lerner with a card, in thanks for what he did that September morning.

“He is a heroic angel, he truly is,” Marialaina said. “We’re family now.”

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