PINOLE -- A WestCAT bus driver is being hailed as a hero for helping a teenage girl escape a loose pit bull, an agency spokeswoman said.

It all started when the pit bull -- later identified by authorities as Colt -- slipped off a leash at around 5 p.m. Wednesday, said Lt. Joe DeCosta of Contra Costa animal services. The owner, who also had a pit bull named Mama on a leash, struggled to control Colt, who began acting aggressively toward the frightened girl and two boys standing outside the Pinole library on Pinole Valley Road, authorities said.

That's when Craig Willis stopped his Route 16 bus, stood between the girl and Colt, and shooed the dog away, said Yvonne Morrow, WestCAT's marketing director.

The girl took refuge inside the library, and Willis went back to work. Library workers later called WestCAT to thank Willis for his bravery, Morrow said.

"I was almost dog food," said Willis, who has a teenage daughter. "It didn't matter what happened to me. I wanted the kids to be safe. I forgot about me."

The 41-year-old Richmond man was let go from his job of 18 years as a mortician at mortuaries in Oakland and Richmond, and began driving buses three months ago after he couldn't find work in his field.

"Maybe me losing my job last year was great because I wouldn't be driving buses," he said. "It was worth saving those kids."

Colt was returned to the dog owner while animal services continues its investigation.


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David DeBolt covers breaking news. Contact him in Richmond at 510-262-2728. Follow him at Twitter.com/daviddebolt.