About 20 McKinley High School students had just stepped aboard Darnell Barton's Metro bus Oct. 18 when he spotted a woman who had climbed over a guardrail and stood leaning over the afternoon traffic zipping along the Scajaquada Expressway below.
With cars and an occasional pedestrian continuing to pass by her, Barton wasn't sure at first that the woman was in distress.
He stopped his bus, opened the door and asked if she needed help, at that moment conflicted between the rules of his job, which required him to call his dispatcher, and his training as a former volunteer firefighter and member of the Buffalo Special Police, which told him that if he made contact, he shouldn't break it.
"It was an interesting situation, knowing what you know and knowing what you have to do," he said by phone Wednesday. "Dispatch picked up. I remember giving my location and saying, 'Send the authorities, this young lady needs help' and then dashing the phone down."
The bus video system captures Barton, 37, leaving the bus and the 20-something woman looking back at him. Her gaze then returns to the traffic below.
"That's when I went and put my arms around her," said Barton, a father of two. "I felt like if she looked down at that traffic one more time it might be it."
With the woman in a bear hug, Barton asked if she wanted to come back over the rail. She hadn't spoken up to that point but said yes.
The video shows Barton tenderly helping her climb back over the guardrail and sit down. Then he sits next to her on the concrete. He asked her name and other questions to distract her, he said, learning she was a student.
"Then she said, 'You smell good,'" he said.
A corrections officer and a female driver who'd been behind the bus came to help, speaking to the woman until police and an ambulance arrived.
"While I was holding her, listening to their questions, I just prayed," the bus driver said. "Whatever was on her mind, it had her. It really, really had her."
When the ambulance drove away, Barton got back on his bus - and received a standing ovation from the high school students and other passengers who'd been watching through the windows. He finished his route, wrote up a report and went home.
"Being the humble individual that Darnell is, he didn't write it in a way that was going to call attention to himself," said C. Douglas Hartmayer, spokesman for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority. "It was: I did it, got back on my bus and continued. That speaks volumes about his demeanor and character."
Barton wishes he could speak with the woman again to make sure she's OK.
"Things like this put what's important in perspective," he said. "You hug your kids a little tighter, kiss your wife a little bit longer. You're grateful.
"Things may not be perfect," he said, "but as we say, they're a little bit of all right."