When Darnell J. Barton stopped his Metro bus on an Elmwood Avenue overpass and rescued a distraught woman from jumping into the speeding traffic below on the Scajaquada Expressway, he reacted out of instinct.
But there was something more going on in his head than his split-second decision to do the right thing as others walked and drove past the woman.
“I looked at that woman on the overpass, and I could identify with her,” the 37-year-old Barton said.
When he saw her, a memory flashed into his mind from several years ago, when depression had driven him to despair.
“I was sitting on the edge of my bed, and in one hand I was holding a Bible and in the other a firearm. I said to God, ‘What are we going to do?’ I set down the firearm and put my face in my hands and started crying. Ever since then, it’s been destiny and having a mission,” Barton told The News, as the story of his saving the woman continued to occupy the national spotlight.
His religious faith, he says, helped him mend his marriage, which had been in trouble, and he found full-time work as a bus driver at the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.
A revelation also took him out of “a very dark place,” he said. He realized it was OK as a man to have a full range of emotions.
“The emotions of males are the most neglected in the world. It is only socially acceptable for men to be mad or happy,” Barton said.
Those tight mental confines, only being happy or upset, he explained, had taken him to the depths of depression and almost to suicide.
That is how he came to identify with the woman when he saw her on the opposite side of the guard rail, with one hand clasped to it, and leaning her body out over the expressway.
So after stopping the bus and approaching her, Barton simply asked if she needed help. He already knew the answer.
Barton also knew that life was better than death.
When her head was turned away from him, he grabbed her. A moment later, they were both on the safe side of the railing, sitting on the sidewalk, with help on the way from first responders.
The story and a video released by the NFTA of the dramatic rescue have been viewed by many on The Buffalo News’ website, buffalonews.com, and elsewhere, turning Barton into a national hero with appearances on NBC’s “Today Show,” and stories in major newspapers and on major network news shows. A local Cub Scout pack has even endeavored to raise money to reward him for his actions.
Barton wants to turn all of the financial donations into something that will benefit others.
“The night after my first interview, I had a dream that I started a foundation, and I actually dreamed a name for it, ‘Life: Heroic,’ ” he said.
If he goes forward with the idea, the purpose will be to help other men who struggle with depression.
“I want to help men mend emotionally and mentally,” he said.
And as word continues to spread about his heroic deed Oct. 18 – which only came to light last week after NFTA officials learned of it and decided to share it with the public – offers of money and gifts continue to come his way. Among the latest seeking to reward him was real estate magnate Donald Trump, who Tweeted that he plans to send “heroic bus driver Darnell Barton $10,000.”
The owner of an East Coast plumbing, electrical and heating and cooling business with offices in several states contacted The News to say he was purchasing Barton and his wife an all-expense paid Caribbean cruise vacation.
“It’s not that I was moved by what Darnell did, but by what other people didn’t do. I saw the video and someone walked right by and it would have been so easy to do something for that woman. Then there was someone riding by on a bike, not to mention all the people in cars that just passed her by,” said Basim M. Mansour, owner of Michael & Son Services, with offices headquartered in the Washington, D.C., area and the sponsor of a television show in that region that highlights the good deeds of people.
“I’m going to fly up to Buffalo and meet Darnell,” Mansour said. “I’m going to get him some sort of Caribbean cruise that will be all-inclusive so that he doesn’t have to spend any money out of his own pocket.”
When asked what he might say to Barton, after learning of the bus driver’s own mental health struggles, Mansour said:
“Keep being yourself, you have a great heart. If you can affect one person’s life, there is a rippling effect.”
Barton says that his wife of 15 years, Trinia, their three children and his pastor are keeping him grounded amid all the attention.
He says he does not consider himself a hero.
“At best,” he said, “I’m a helper.”