- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 14, 2002

Sixth-grader Greg Whitaker just knew something was wrong March 7 when a brown van pulled in and blocked the path he and a 6-year-old companion were taking.
It was Greg's job, as a safety patrol captain at Fairhill Elementary School in Fairfax, to ensure the first-grader got home safely and he sensed trouble when the van driver hopped out and began peppering the younger boy with personal questions.
"I said loudly that we needed to go," Greg said. "I walked him home. We could see his house just up the road a couple of blocks. We walked behind the van, and when we started to walk, [the van driver] got into his car and drove away."
School and law enforcement officials later said the sixth-grader's decisive action quickly leading his young charge away from an aggressive stranger may have prevented an abduction, or worse.
"I don't know what adult would have that presence of mind," said Janis Paushter, principal of Fairhill Elementary, where both students attend. "We're all just so proud of him."
Once he arrived home, Greg reported the incident to Mrs. Paushter and then to the Fairfax police who were able to track down the driver that afternoon because Greg had memorized the van's license plate numbers.
The driver hadn't broken any laws in the incident with the children, but police did find an outstanding warrant on an unrelated charge and took the 49-year-old Vienna man into custody.
For keeping his cool in a tough situation, the 11-year-old safety patrol captain will be honored next month by AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Greg was nominated for the AAA School Safety Patrol Lifesaving Award by Mrs. Paushter. He is one of six safety patrol individuals nationwide who will be honored at an awards ceremony in the District, according to Justin McNaull, a AAA spokesman. The travel club sponsors more than 30,000 school patrols in the country.
On May 4, Greg will be a grand marshal at the AAA Safety Patrol parade that will proceed down Constitution Avenue. On May 5, he'll tour Old Town Alexandria and Mount Vernon. On May 6, he'll pay a visit to the Capitol to meet a few congressmen.
Among the criteria for winning the award is intervention by the nominee during a life-threatening or imminently dangerous situation.
"Fortunately Greg intervened before anything happened," Mr. McNaull said.
An only child, Greg wants to play baseball when he grows up and he's off to a good start: he's a catcher for his little league team, and his favorite player is retired Baltimore Oriole star Cal Ripken Jr.
He said he enjoys serving as a safety patrol captain and, in this instance, relied on his intuition in part because he felt a little endangered.
"We weren't specifically trained to handle this. It was just my general senses," he said. "I didn't know who the man was. And then the man started asking him personal questions. It was my own decision to memorize the license plate."

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