By Teri Carnicelli
It was past 9 o’clock at night on March 18, and the two girls in the car being driven by Susan Mulligan were tired after a long day of school followed by soccer practice with their club, Sereno Soccer. Suddenly, Mulligan—who had been fighting a stomach virus—told the girls that she wasn’t feeling well, that she might even throw up.
Just as Mulligan’s 12-year-old daughter, Claire, and 13-year-old passenger, Brooke Gerlach, were commiserating with her, something unexpected and very scary happened: Mulligan passed out at the wheel.
Brooke, who was in the back seat, quickly unbuckled herself and climbed over the seat, awkwardly sitting in Mulligan’s lap while she grabbed the steering wheel. They were near 40th Street and Cactus Road, and luckily, because of the late hour, traffic was light. Brooke asked Claire, who was in the passenger seat, to turn on the interior light so she could see the floor pedals better. She steered the car up onto a curb and eventually brought it to a stop. Brooke told Claire to call 9-1-1 just as Mulligan was coming to, disoriented and stunned by what had happened.
“It was a few seconds before I came to,” Mulligan recalls. “The next thing I knew, I was 200 feet further down the road and Brooke was in my lap. She told me what happened, that I was going to be OK and that help was on the way.
“I was really impressed with her. She just took charge from the second it happened. She was calm and collected, thank goodness,” Mulligan says.
The Phoenix Fire Department presented Brooke with its Citizen Lifesaving Award in front of the entire seventh-grade class at Madison Meadows, where Brooke attends school, on May 14. The award is presented to someone who has been involved in a lifesaving effort at an emergency scene before the arrival of the Fire Department.
This nomination is normally made be Fire Department personnel assigned to the incident. Several of the firefighters from Engine 27, which responded to the 9-1-1 call that fateful night, were in attendance at the awards assembly.
When presenting Brooke with the award firefighter Daniel Cheatham noted that she not only potentially saved the lives of all three of them in the car that night, but anyone else whose vehicle they might have struck.
Firefighter Justin Patti added, “She did everything right. There is nothing she could have done better. She reacted quickly and took control of the vehicle.”
“I guess I didn’t realize the severity of the situation at first,” says Brooke’s father, Jeff Gerlach. “As I learned more about it, I felt incredibly blessed and fortunate that Brooke and everyone else were okay.”
As for his daughter’s quick thinking, Gerlach comments, “she’s definitely a leader. She’s very take-charge, and that served her well in this situation. I thought was she did was incredible, and I was very proud, but I wasn’t that surprised; I could totally see her doing something like this, in an emergency situation.”
“A couple of days later, I still couldn’t believe that it happened,” Brooke admits. “But I was glad I was able to help.”
Brooke says she’s going to hang her award plaque in her bedroom. “I now know that I will react the way I want to in the event of another situation like that,” she says.