True Highway Heroes

Truck drivers who made a difference

America's professional truck drivers often get a bad rap in the media. They're portrayed as low-brow ruffians who hog the road, abuse speed in both senses of the word and generally make trouble for those who pilot cars. How often have the TV or movies presented a crazed trucker bent on forcing some poor, innocent car driver off the road? Like many stereotypes, that picture of the professional truck driver is way off the mark. Those who do a great deal of cross-country driving recognize that truckers, as a group, are the most courteous drivers on the road. Just offer him the benefit of a turn signal and acknowledge the fact that his vehicle is bigger and harder to handle than a passenger car, and the average trucker will go out of the way to give you the benefit of the doubt. In the course of the hundreds of thousands of miles they drive each year, many truckers are given the chance to be more than just courteous. In emergency situations, professional drivers often rise to the occasion by performing lifesaving feats. The reports abound from all across the nation, and what follows are the stories of six professional truck drivers who risked their own lives to help others. These brave men have been selected as finalists for the 1999 Goodyear North America Highway Hero Award, the trucking industry's most prestigious award for heroism.

Quick Thinking Saves Two

On June 22, Terry Harvey of Salt Lick, Kentucky, and Floyd Anthony Miller of Irvine, Kentucky, who were driving separate rigs, came across a fiery accident involving a Jeep and a sedan on Kentucky's Mountain Parkway. The quick-thinking men broke out the back window of the upside-down Jeep and used a knife to free the driver from his seatbelt. Then they used an air mattress in the back of the Jeep to drag the 275-pound driver to safety. At the same time the driver of the sedan was trapped in his wrecked vehicle, and the fire from the Jeep spread dangerously close, threatening his life. As bystanders stood at a distance, fearing an explosion, Harvey and Miller used a nylon strap connected to Harvey's truck to pull the sedan out of harm's way. Soon afterward, the blaze reached the Jeep's gas tank, causing a fireball that engulfed the area where the sedan had been located. Both drivers survived the accident. Harvey drives for American Freightways Inc. of Lexington, and Miller drives for Kentucky Petroleum Supply of Winchester.

When Extinguishers Failed

In the early morning hours of April 9 on Interstate 95 in Virginia, Morris Holley of Baltimore witnessed a vehicle slam into the rear of another vehicle, overturn and catch fire. Running from his rig, he tried to extinguish the blaze himself, and, when his efforts failed, he radioed for other truck drivers to help. The combined power of several truckers' extinguishers were unable to overcome the gasoline-fed inferno, and some bystanders, fearing an explosion, began to back away from the scene. This, despite the fact that an unconscious woman lay trapped inside the car. That's when Ronald McKee of Middletown, New Jersey, picked up a spent extinguisher, broke out the car's rear window and, braving the fire, dragged the woman to safety. Literally within seconds of McKee's dramatic rescue, the car exploded. Holley, McKee and other drivers tended to the crash victim until rescue crews arrived, and the woman survived her ordeal. Holley drives for Swift Transportation Inc. of Richmond, Virginia, and McKee drives for Arctic Express of Hilliard, Ohio.

A Friend to the Rescue

On September 29, Jeffrey Wiles of Montpelier, Ohio, noticed a van weaving erratically through morning traffic on Route 15 near Bryan, Ohio. He contacted police by radio as he followed the van for more than a mile. At that point, the van veered off the road, struck a retaining wall and came to a stop on top of a gas main. The crash broke off the top of the gas main, and the vehicle was quickly engulfed in flames.

Wiles and two other motorists tried unsuccessfully to extinguish the fire, not knowing that a 20-pound propane tank and full 5-gallon gas container were in the back of the burning van. Then they broke out the rear window of the van and pulled the driver to safety.

Only after the driver was freed did Wiles realize that the victim was a friend he had worked with closely on the local EMS team. The driver, a diabetic, had gone into insulin shock while driving, but because of his buddy's fast action, he survived the accident.

Wiles drives for Bryan Truck Line in Montpelier.

First Aid Saves a Life

While picking up a load in Garwood, New Jersey, on February 7 of last year, John McDonald of Memphis, heard a commotion inside the building. A panicked worker ran up to McDonald and told him that a co-worker desperately needed help inside. Barrels weighing several hundred pounds had fallen, and one of them landed on the worker's leg, severing it. Despite the fact that other barrels stacked precariously nearby could have fallen on him at any moment, McDonald patiently applied a tourniquet to the victim's leg and consoled him until rescue crews arrived. Doctors were unable to reattach the victim's leg, but he did survive.

McDonald drives for M.S. Carriers Inc. in Memphis.

"We should all feel a little safer knowing there are courageous individuals like these six men on our roadways," said Mike Thomann, Goodyear's marketing director for commercial tires. "During the 17 years since the inception of the Highway Hero program, we have heard about hundreds of truck drivers who placed themselves in harm's way to save someone else, and we think it is important that they be recognized publicly."

On March 23, the drivers who performed these selfless acts will be introduced to the trucking industry at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, and one of the drivers will be named the Goodyear North America Highway Hero for 1999.

The six finalists were selected from 24 state and provincial winners throughout the United States and Canada. A panel of judges, consisting of members of the trucking and tire trade media, will select the 1999 Goodyear North America Highway Hero, who will receive a $20,000 savings bond. The other finalists will receive $5,000 savings bonds. All of the finalists receive a free trip to the Mid-America Trucking Show and, following the awards ceremony, a trip to Nashville.

--- John Jaha

Jaha writes frequently about trucks and the trucking industry.