When Figo the service dog saw an oncoming mini school bus heading for Audrey Stone, the blind woman he was trained to guide, the golden retriever’s protective instincts kicked in: He threw himself at the closest part of the vehicle he could.
Police photos show the result: fur stuck to the front driver’s side wheel and in the middle of Michael Neuner Avenue in New York, where the bus came to a stop after striking the pair.
The driver of the Brewster school bus, carrying two kindergartners to St. Lawrence O’Toole Childhood Learning Center, told police he didn’t see the pair crossing the road as they made their way home at about 8:15 Monday morning.
But Figo saw the bus coming and leapt into action.
Stone, 62, suffered a fractured right elbow, three broken ribs, a fractured ankle and a cut to her head in the accident, said Brewster Police Chief John Del Gardo. Figo’s leg was cut down to the bone, said Paul Schwartz, who manages the Xtra Mart gas station at the intersection and ran to the scene to help.
“I don’t know if (the driver) thought (Stone) was going to move faster, but it looks like the dog tried to take most of the hit for her,” said Schwartz, who lives in Mahopac.
When Schwartz reached the crash site Stone was bleeding from her head and complaining of hip pain.
“There were 15 EMTs and people all around her and the dog didn’t want to leave her side,” Schwartz said. “He was flopping over to her and she didn’t want him to get away from her, either. She kept screaming, ‘Where’s Figo? Where’s Figo? Where’s Figo?’ We kept telling her he was fine.”
Schwartz and one of the EMTs bandaged Figo’s right leg.
“The dog was being a good sport, really calm,” Schwartz said. “He sat with me the whole time. He was limping as we put him on a big blanket on the sidewalk and it started to rain. He let us wrap up his leg without any problem. He wasn’t barking or crying or yelping. But he kept pulling toward her. After she was put on a gurney and taken away, he stopped doing that. He seemed a little lost after she left.”
There are rules against transporting animals in ambulances.
Schwartz said Stone, who lives on North Main Street not far from the accident site, was “very upset as she was getting in the ambulance that (Figo) wasn’t with her. After she left, we put him in the (Brewster Fire Department) truck and they took him to the vet.”
A staff member at Middlebranch Veterinary in Paterson confirmed that Figo was being treated there on Monday. Brewster Police Chief Del Gardo said later that the dog was undergoing surgery on its leg.
The bus had just come down Carmel Avenue to North Main Street and was turning onto Michael Neuner Drive when it struck Stone and Figo in the unpainted crosswalk.
“She got about to the middle of the street before the bus, which made a right on North Main and then a left onto Michael Neuner,” Del Gardo said. “(The driver’s) eyes were occupied on the North Main traffic.”
The driver of the mini-bus was given a summons for failing to yield to a pedestrian.
Steven Moskowitz, Brewster’s assistant superintendent for human resources and technology, said the driver was taken to Partners in Safety in White Plains for routine post-accident drug and alcohol testing, the results of which should be available later in the week. The driver was taken off duty while an investigation is conducted. Part of that investigation will be a review of dashboard cameras in the mini-bus and on another bus that was in the area at the time, Moskowitz said.
Moskowitz, who would not discuss the bus driver’s driving history, said the two students were transported to O’Toole by another bus and their parents were notified of the accident.
Del Gardo said the bus wasn’t traveling fast and stopped without leaving skidmarks on the pavement.
“The dog took a lot of the blow,” Del Gardo said. “And he did not want to leave her side. He stood right with her. He was there to save her.”
The chief said Stone, interviewed in her hospital bed, was happy to hear that Figo was being treated and that friends are working out the details of the dog’s care while Stone recovers.