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Hometown Hero: MTA bus operator honored for saving lost nonverbal boy who walked away from clinic

2020-01-07

MTA bus operator Tyrone Hampton was in the middle of a routine run in upper Manhattan on Friday, Nov. 1 when he noticed an unusual passenger.

At around 2 p.m., a sheepish young boy boarded his northbound M101 bus at 165th St. in Washington Heights.

“He just ran on the bus,” Hampton recalled to the Daily News. “He didn’t make eye contact, but I didn’t’ think it was peculiar because it was around the time the kids get out of school.”

As Hampton drove up Amsterdam Avenue and approached the route’s northern terminal in Fort George, the bulk of the passengers began to trickle off and the bus was largely empty.

But the boy, who is 10 years old and nonverbal, remained silently in his seat.

Hampton encounters a lot of strange riders on the M101 route — it’s one of the city’s busiest — but something about the child set off alarms, and for his alert attention and caring, Hampton has earned a nomination for The News’ Hometown Hero award.

“When everyone got off, he was alone sitting,” Hampton recounted. Another woman noticed the curious rider — and waited with the quick-thinking transit worker while he contacted police about the missing child.

“We made sure he did not leave the bus — and he got up and wanted to leave at one point," Hampton said.

Hampton, who’s been driving buses for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for two years, said he has experience with children who have a similar condition as the boy. “My girlfriend’s son has autism — I know the feeling,” he said.

Police arrived, and the child was soon reunited with his family.

It turned out the youngster ran off from a pediatric clinic on Audobon Ave. near W. 166th St. before he scampered onto the bus.

“The cops came with the mother, who was so happy,” said Hampton. “Apparently he loves buses, and saw my bus and ran on it.”

Learning how to handle situations like this is a part of the job — transit workers are given deescalation training, and the agency has a playbook for dealing with missing children.

Hampton said his training stuck with him — and that his bosses have noticed during his relatively short time as a bus operator. He has racked up 10 “red apples,” which are given to employees who receive a formal compliment from a member of the riding public.

“People always josh me and say I’ve been here so many years and I only have one and you have 10 of them,” Hampton joked.

He said the good deed is simply a part of his job — and hopes the public knows what bus operators endure while moving millions of New Yorkers across the city.

“We sacrifice our time from our homes and our families,” said Hampton. “We work nine or 10 hours a day, five or six days a week just to make end’s meet. It’s stressful... but we dedicate ourselves to the job.”