No pulse, no movement and a wide-open stare.
Tustin PD Motor Officer Ralph Casiello had seen that kind of expression in his career before, and it was never good.
As the 13-year-old lay still on the pavement in front of Pioneer Middle School, Casiello, along with a school administrator and a school nurse, fought to find some semblance of life.
Casiello, who has been with the Tustin PD for 26 years and a motor officer for 13 of those, often patrolled around Pioneer Middle School in the afternoons.
After school lets out, the streets surrounding the school become hectic and filled with drivers who sometimes commit vehicle code violations in the haste to pick up their children
“I would usually try to spend the afternoon at Pioneer to just be a presence and have the parents drive a little more safely,” Casiello said.
On the afternoon of June 7, Casiello sat at a red light at Irvine Boulevard and the 55 freeway — far from the middle school — and he thought about Pioneer.
He thought about how he hadn’t been by in a while for afternoon traffic enforcement.
Casiello also thought about how he likely wouldn’t make it to Pioneer in time for afternoon dismissal anyway since he was on the other side of town.
But the the light turned green, and Casiello made a U-turn and headed toward the school.
Casiello was right, he did arrive too late for dismissal.
Children spilled out in the front of the school and surrounding areas. Two students caught his attention after one threw a stick at a passing car.
Casiello, parked just catty-corner from Pioneer, reprimanded the students about the dangers of throwing items at passing cars and was ready to usher them to the principal’s office when the call came in at around 2:30 p.m.
Child not breathing at Pioneer Middle School.
“As soon as you get that call, everybody just rushes to get there,” Casiello said. “It’s like a race to get (on-scene).”
Lucky for the teen, Casiello was seconds away.
“I’m a firm believer in things happen for a reason,” he said. “I hadn’t planned on being there, but something put me there that day. Something put me there at that time, in that place.”
Also lucky for the student, school administrators were there to quickly respond when 13-year-old Siva Pelluru collapsed face-first onto the pavement.
Pamela Atkins, the school nurse for Tustin Unified School District, splits her time between campuses throughout the week.
On June 7, she wasn’t supposed to be at Pioneer Middle School, but moved her schedule around so she could attend an on-campus meeting.
When a student came into the school office to ask for help because Siva had fainted, Atkins sprinted out to the front of the school.
Looking at him she knew he was in trouble.
“My first thought was, ‘Why did this happen’?” Atkins said. “It’s difficult to see a child in that situation.”
She started compressions and saw the color quickly draining from the teen’s face.
“There was one moment he came back, but then he was gone again,” Atkins said.
Assistant Princpal Troy Fresch grabbed the school’s automated external defibrillator (AED), and placed the pads on the teen’s chest.
The AED delivered a shock to get Siva’s heart beating again.
Casiello was running up to the scene and pulling off his helmet just as the AED detected a heart beat.
Siva still was not breathing, however.
The teen’s face was bloodied from the fall and his dark brown eyes, framed with dark brown hair, stared up at Casiello as the officer took over CPR.
Minutes passed, and the officer continued to alternate compressions with breath.
Then the teen gasped and coughed.
“It was a relief,” Casiello said. “He was breathing. He was conscious.”
Firefighters took the teen to CHOC Children’s, where he was treated and released two days later.
“Everything aligned,” Atkins said of their lifesaving efforts. “I truly believe it was a miracle.”
The Pelluru family on Friday returned to Pioneer Middle School to thank the three who saved Siva that day.
The teen’s father, Prabha Pelluru, said this was the first serious incident Siva had experienced since their son was diagnosed with a congenital heart disorder as a baby.
Siva received a pacemaker that will regulate his heart should he have another episode.
“If they showed up even a few minutes later, this would have been a different situation,” Pelluru said. “They did a great job.”
Although shy when he met with the officer and school administrators who saved him, he smiled when he saw his classmates waving to him from the school’s gate.
Principal Tracey Vander Hayden and Fresch then delivered his yearbook and a stack of cards from his classmates wishing him a speedy recovery.
“We were happy to have you before, but we are really happy you’re here with us now,” Fresch told Siva.
A fire captain from the Orange County Fire Authority told Casiello he, Atkins and Fresch will be nominated for a lifesaving award from the fire department.
“He did say had the three of us not acted so quickly, the child probably would not have survived,” the motor officer said.
Although Casiello believes the school employees should be recognized for their lifesaving actions, as an officer, accepting any kind of honor feels a little strange.
“It’s like praising the UPS guy for delivering your package,” he said. “This is just our job. It’s what we train for.”
“I did what every other cop wanted to do; I just happened to get there first.”