Squirrel Hill resident has ride to remember leaving Shapiro/Davis inauguration
“You never know what you’re going to do in that situation. This was almost like the most natural thing.”
Clifford Levine doesn’t need to watch late-night airings of “Speed,” an action movie starring Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves set on a bus hurtling down the highway. Levine recently lived through something similar — without the benefit of a stunt double.
A Jewish attorney from Squirrel Hill who worked on Gov. Josh Shapiro’s transition team, Levine attended the inauguration ceremony of the newly-elected governor and Lt. Gov. Austin Davis on Tuesday, Jan. 17.
It was while traveling back from a celebration afterward that Levine was suddenly initiated into the world of action stars.
Shapiro’s inauguration committee had rented large buses to transport attendees from the celebration in Lancaster back to Harrisburg, Levine said. After the festivities, which included Smokey Robinson and Pittsburgh native Wiz Khalifa, he joined about 25 people shortly after 11 p.m. on one of the last buses leaving Lancaster.
Levine was seated in the second row and noticed that the bus started drifting while on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in a work zone.
“We were in the left lane — it seemed to be drifting a little out of the lane,” Levine recalled. “It was nighttime. A lot of people were tired or talking and not paying attention, but I happened to be watching.”
After asking the driver twice if he was OK and receiving no response, Levine rose to check on the man, whom he feared had fallen asleep. It was then that the bus clipped a Jersey barrier in the middle of the turnpike, causing it to spin slightly.
Levine said he realized that this was something more serious than a driver asleep at the wheel, and would require direct intervention.
“It was hard to access, but I reached over his right shoulder and grabbed the steering wheel,” Levine said.
While he was steering the bus, the driver’s foot was still pressing on the gas pedal.
Levine knew he could not steer the vehicle and simultaneously search for a key to shut off the bus or try to move the driver’s foot from the pedal.
A woman, dressed appropriately for the evening in an evening gown, made her way to the front of the bus and began helping Levine.
Romaine Simmons is a trained nurse who lives and works in New Jersey. She is also the aunt of Lt. Gov. Austin Davis. She was traveling with her sister and three nieces, and had been resting but awoke to Levine trying to rouse the driver.
Simmons made her way to the front of the bus thinking she might have to perform CPR on the driver, a skill she urges everyone to learn for just such a situation.
“I can hear people in the back of the bus saying, ‘Get the key,’ but I didn’t see one,” she said.
The driver regained consciousness long enough to tell Simmons that there was no key before passing out again. Simmons next went to work on the driver’s feet. She pressed down on his brake foot and the bus stopped. As soon as she released her pressure, though, the bus started moving again.
During Simmons travails, Levine managed to steer the bus to the side of the road, so the vehicle was no longer in danger of hitting another car or some other hazard in the work zone.
Simmons again applied pressure to the driver’s brake foot, holding the foot on the pedal for an extended period, and the bus stopped — this time for good.
The unidentified driver regained consciousness, so Simmons did not have to perform CPR. He was then taken to the hospital.
Simmons said she wasn’t sure what happened to the driver but hoped he had recovered and was fine.
Other than her training as a nurse, Simmons said she had no special skills to prepare her for that night on the bus.
“It all happened so fast,” she said. “You never know what you’re going to do in that situation. This was almost like the most natural thing.”
Levine, too, hadn’t prepared for a scene fit for a multiplex theater. He said that as a skier “whipping down a double diamond slope,” he learned the skill of total focus and believe it helped him get through the situation.
“I was aware that other people were on the bus and that I was in work zone, so I was a little bit worried about a gap in the asphalt, and I remember thinking that I needed a contingency plan,” he said.
The newly sworn in Davis, who wasn’t on the bus, said the situation was “pretty wild.”
“You never know what’s going to happen on this job,” he said. “You never relive the same day twice. It was already a memorable day. This put the cherry on top.” PJC
David Rullo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.