At 7:15 yesterday morning, Marvin J. Moye, a veteran Metrobus driver, found himself at the top of one of the city's steepest hills, in command of a busload of 35 people and with no brakes.
As he descended from the top of East Capitol Street where it intersects with Division Avenue NE, "I hit my brakes and I heard a pop; I guess that's when the air line broke," Moye recalled.
His 4 1/2-ton, number 40 bus headed down East Capitol Street, picking up speed to 30 miles an hour.
He pulled the emergency brake lever. Nothing happened. He pushed the brake button of last resort. No response.
"All I could see in front of me was cars. I had to make a quick decision: either I run into the back of these cars and wipe them out, or cross the median strip and go down the wrong side of the street," Moye recalled in an interview yesterday afternoon.
He decided to cross the median strip, and figure out how to stop the bus later. The median at that point is a grass and concrete barrier seven inches high and 20 feet wide.
Starting in the right, westbound lane, he maneuvered the bus toward the strip, worried that the impact and the angle he would cross over would overturn the bus. The impact lifted people momentarily out of their seats, and the vehicle went bouncing over the strip.
"It was the closest I've ever come to piloting a plane," Moye recalled. "It didn't slow down the bus at all."
The bus landed on the other side, and picked up speed. Moye said he saw several cars coming at him. He began honking his horn.
Some passengers got onto the floor and braced themselves for what seemed an inevitable crash.
" 'Brakes gone, everybody hold on. Just be cool,' " Moye said he yelled.
Moye guided the bus so that the right wheels brushed against the curb, and repeated that maneuver "maybe five times," he said, trying to keep the bus from flipping on its side. The bus slowed.
At the bottom of the hill, where East Capitol intersects with Benning Road NE, and about nine blocks from where he lost his brakes, Moye brought the bus to a safe halt.
Passengers applauded and thanked him.
"It was a hair-raising experience," he said later, speaking softly. "I just did what I had to do. It was a combination of luck and skill."
No passenger complained of injury. Moye, 37, a former Air Force military policeman and 15-year Metro veteran cited for his safe driving record, said that his neck, back and shoulder were sore.
Yesterday, Metro officials said they would recommend him for another award.