For Access-a-Ride driver, a stop unlike any other

Thumbnail

That Saturday morning in late December began as a great one for Rashida Way-Smith. While guiding her Access-a-Ride van along South Parker Road – a street she’d been on countless times – the driver enjoyed Tim McGraw’s voice on the radio and the quiet presence of the two passengers behind her. She noticed that the sun was attempting to peek through the clouds. She thought about the next major turn to take, onto I-225.

Then Way-Smith watched as a couple of vehicles in front of her started moving over, and she wondered why as she slowed the van, scanning the road for an answer. 

Seconds later, she saw the small face of a terrified child, screaming in the middle of the busy street, other drivers continuing to pass. He was clothed in pajamas and wore no shoes in the winter weather, which hovered just above freezing. Way-Smith couldn’t believe what she was seeing. He couldn’t be any older than 2 or 3.

“Oh, my God! Somebody’s baby is in the street!” she yelled. The mother of four stopped her bus, jumped out and approached the child, who extended his arms and allowed Way-Smith to carry him onto the van, where she placed him on a bench seat amid the other passengers and strapped him in. From there, she drove to the entrance of a nearby apartment complex and pulled into the parking lot, finding a safe place where she could call dispatch. 

As she sat there, radio in hand, Way-Smith looked to the corners of the complex from her seat. She expected to see an adult striding around frantically, looking for a child. No one was out.

One of the passengers told her, “You saved that baby’s life.” All aboard waited patiently for about 25 minutes until a Denver Police officer arrived. The child, quiet in his seat, accepted an unwrapped granola bar from Way-Smith, covering his eyes as she told him, “You can eat it! It’s OK.”

After Way-Smith passed the boy to the officer, she delivered her passengers to their destinations and returned to work. Some of her co-workers at MV Transportation, a contracted company that operates Access-a-Ride service for RTD, asked her about the incident. Soon, local news outlets inquired, and then many people knew.

Way-Smith credits a dispatcher colleague named Steve for asking straightforward questions and keeping her calm. “It was comforting to know that he jumped on that, because I was already nervous about everything going on,” she said. “He reassured me, and told me they (police) were on their way.”

It’s been odd to be the center of attention, Way-Smith said. “This is just something I would have done, no matter who it was. If I wasn’t at work and I saw it, I would have done it.”

Way-Smith doesn’t know why that child was in the road that morning. Whether to stop was never a question, she said: “I couldn’t have imagined what would have happened if another car went around me and didn’t see him or her, or how would I feel if that was my child.”

She loves the nature of her work, Way-Smith said, which allows her to get to know her passengers and help people out. The Aurora resident has been driving RTD passengers for two and a half years.

“It’s in my heart,” she said. “That’s the nature of who I am.”