An ex-con who turned his life around after spending a decade in federal lockup for drugs is being hailed as a hero after he saved a 15-month-old girl who wandered away from home to the edge of a Georgia highway.
Bryant Collins says that he's been in a lot of "bad situations," but still couldn't believe his eyes when he spotted the toddler crawling perilously close to Highway 72.
"I had seen something out of the corner of my eye, and I thought it was a baby," Collins told NBC affiliate WXIA. "I just stopped and, when I got out, there was a baby — almost in the highway."
'What the hell is going on?" Collins said he asked himself. "A baby?'"
The stunned auto repairman scooped up the little girl from the grassy roadside, called 911 and then started playing gospel music on his cell phone to calm the crying tot.
He comforted the child for two hours while police tried to figure out where the baby came from and how it got there.
Madison County Sheriff Kip Thomas said it appears the toddler was left in the care of older siblings who lost track of her on Friday.
She crawled away from home and 300 yards through the woods before tumbling down an embankment and then making her way to the highway, where she could easily have been run over.
Fortunately, aside from some superficial injuries, the baby was fine.
"Honestly, that's almost a miracle," Thomas said.
Officers were checking out the child when her father, Timothy Pickens, showed up and began scuffling with police, according to the sheriff's office. It's unclear if the child's mother will face charges.
Pickens County Sheriff's Office
Police arrested Timothy Pickens after his baby was found along the side of a highway in Madison County, Georgia.
For Collins, the incident was an opportunity to show he is a changed man.
"I did 10 years in the federal institution for manufacturing cocaine," he said. "When I was in prison, I made a very conscientious effort to change, and I did."
He said he's stayed out of trouble for five years, and for that, a curly-haired strawberry blonde can forever be thankful.
"It made me feel good, that I could be in society and do good," Collins said.
First published June 17 2014, 7:24 AM