It was one of those visuals that we hear about all the time, but when faced with it — up close — it’s difficult to fathom.
Bus driver Darnell Barton — heading across a highway overpass on a Friday afternoon earlier this month with a vehicle full of high schoolers on their way home — peered out his right-side door and noticed a woman standing on the other side of the guardrail, with nothing between her and the expressway below.
“I didn’t think it was real with everything else going on around her,” Barton told the Buffalo News. “Traffic was proceeding as normal and a couple of pedestrians walked right by her and a bicyclist rode by. [emphasis added]
“I mean, they were inches from her.”
Barton, however, couldn’t just drive by.
So he stopped the bus, opened the door, and called out to the woman: “Do you need help?”
Barton, still seated, phoned a dispatcher to report what he was witnessing — and then he got an extra dose of adrenaline after hearing one of his student passengers weeping and then uttering a fateful phrase: “I don’t want to see someone die.”
That’s when the man whose co-workers lovingly call “Big Country” stepped outside his role as bus driver and into a role as rescuer.
He stood up, walked out of the bus, and carefully approached the woman. “She turned back to look at me and then back at the traffic and that’s when I kind of lunged and got my left arm around her body,” Barton told the Buffalo News. “I asked her, ‘Do you want to come on this side of the guard rail now?’ and that was the first time she spoke to me and said, ‘Yeah.’”
Barton helped her step back over the railing, and the pair took a breather.
“We both sat on the sidewalk right there on Elmwood Avenue and I asked, ‘Where are you from?’ I tried to get some information. She wasn’t forthcoming,” he told the Buffalo News. “She looked down and then looked up and said, ‘You smell good.’”
Barton, who said he put on some cologne before his work day began, told the Buffalo News that the woman’s simple observation gave him a sense of relief, as it indicated she “wasn’t that detached.”
“I wanted to convey that whatever it was, I’m going to help you through and it’s not as serious as jumping onto the 198,” Barton told WIVB-TV.
Soon help arrived. A state prison corrections officer was passing by and pulled over. A woman who identified herself as a crisis counselor arrived, as did Buffalo police and firefighters.
Fittingly, when Barton stepped back into the bus, the 20 McKinley High School students — who by now were very late getting home but got a huge lesson in compassion and doing the right thing — gave their bus driver a well-deserved round of applause.
And Barton, 37, gave props right back to them. “They were great,” he told the Buffalo News of this passengers. “They sat there quietly. It was an encouragement to me. Oftentimes we look at young people and we forget we were young. As each of them got off the bus, they shook my hand.”
Barton said he believed the whole event happened for a reason.
“I feel like I did what I was supposed to do at the time,” he told WIVB-TV. “I’m a football guy so when you sit the bench and the coach calls your number, you got to go in there make a play… and I think that’s what I did.”
And what did Barton do after giving his statement to police and all the drama had died down?
He got back behind the wheel and finished his shift.
Below is the full video from the inside the bus (no volume):