He’s the man with the key to the city — but no, he hasn’t unlocked it yet.
That’s just how Gary Brooks’ coworkers have joked with him since Tulsa’s mayor honored him with the golden award.
“Everywhere I go, people still shouting at me,” the native Jamaican said, sighing with a smile that revealed a missing tooth. “‘That’s a hero right there!’ and I’m like ‘Oh, my god.’”
The tooth fell out the day after the 52-year-old intervened in a Tulsa Transit passenger’s rage-filled attack on a bus driver in August. Officials say he likely saved the driver’s life, and Brooks wasn’t even riding the bus.
Nor did he report the loss of his pearly white, which cost him several hundred dollars to replace.
“I don’t know what happened,” he said, unsure of when exactly the dental blow came in the melee. “It’s funny, though.
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"When I was coming to see you today, my wife said, ‘Don’t smile too much.’”
The pair moved to Tulsa about 20 years ago to be closer to his wife's family, he said, and Guillain-Barré syndrome has had her in a wheelchair the past few years. When he’s not working nights on the receiving dock of a furniture warehouse, he stays home to care for her.
Brooks actually spends most of his time helping others, including the Saturday afternoon he was at the flea market near where the bus crashed.
But on that day, Aug. 13, he’s convinced someone else was helping him.
“God is the power,” Brooks said. “I think (he) gave me the strength.”
Brooks was helping his father-in-law at a resale booth along Admiral Place, as he does every Saturday and Sunday, when he saw a telephone pole shake at about noon. Tracing his eyes to its base, he saw the crashed bus.
Some men left the busy shopping center to run across the street, he said, but something stopped them in their tracks, and they just stared.
Moving closer, Brooks soon saw the assailant's arms swinging inside the bus.
“Every time this guy punched (the driver), you see blood flash all over the window,” he said softly, shaking his head in disgust.
The visual brought him back to a fatal assault he witnessed years ago at a bus stop in Jamaica, he said, and he was determined to not let this one end the same way. He knocked hard on the locked door, hoping the assailant would either come after him or stop, “but he didn’t.”
“He say he gonna kill me," Brooks said. "So I just say, 'Oh Jesus, I’m just gonna go straight in.'”
Brooks said he knew it was “crazy” because he didn't know whether the rampaging man was armed in any other way, but he still scrambled to find a way to get onto the bus. He found the front door locked and the windows wouldn't budge, but the back door had two panels.
Wedging his finger in between, Brooks said he pried open the doors and climbed inside.
“That’s why I say God was on my side,” Brooks said. “I think (he) pushed me in.”
The bus was filled with elderly passengers, two of whom the assailant had already laid flat when they tried to speak up or intervene, Brooks said. They told Brooks the assailant thought the driver was on the wrong route, but he was on the wrong bus.
Walking down the aisle and yelling, Brooks said the man punched the driver once more before turning to punch at Brooks.
Drawing on his training as a former security guard, Brooks said he dipped under the man's sloppy swing and came up face-to-face with him, restraining him in a front chokehold.
“He was still rustling and cussing and trying to fight,” Brooks remembered. “But he don’t know my mind because I already have a plan.”
Holding the assailant firm until his heartbeat slowed, Brooks dragged him away from the driver and held him on the ground until police arrived.
“I was mad to have to punch him,” Brooks said. “If you’re mad, you can’t do things. Just like if you’re a boxer; you have to know what you’re doing. Because people, when they’re mad, they do some stupid stuff.”
As he waited for police to arrive, Brooks said the crowds thronged with the assailant down. They wanted to pummel or suffocate the man, Brooks said, but he pushed them away while taking the sweat towel off his shoulders to hand to a man he instructed to soak the blood off the driver’s face.
The driver survived. He suffered brain injuries and remained in rehabilitation through September, but fortunately, his employer noted, he does not remember much of the assault.
Brooks, however, does. He might have healed from his physical soreness, but flashbacks flood his mind any time he drives down Admiral or passes a bus, which is often.
“I think it’s going to stay with me,” he said. “Everywhere, there is a bus.”
But he knows who holds the key to his life, and he’s confident God will lead him each day.
“Everything I do, I do it God's way," Brooks said. "I don’t think I’m a hero, I just think I’m a good Samaritan. (The driver) couldn’t help himself. He couldn’t cry for help. So I was his voice, and I was his help. The world’s broken — really broken. But (God) is the answer to all of it."
Editor's note: The alleged assailant, who is Native American, faces federal charges in the assault. He is slated to undergo a competency determination based on a history of mental illness, psychiatric treatment and substance abuse before his court proceedings continue.