As finalists for Goodyear’s North America Highway Hero Award, three professional truck drivers battled flames to pull victims to safety in separate accidents and another driver saved a mother and her baby from oncoming traffic as they lay on a wet and dark Florida Turnpike.
Truck drivers from Casselberry, Fla.; Ashford, Ala.; Conover, Ohio; and North Troy, Vt., were named finalists for trucking’s most prestigious award for heroism.
“We are indebted to truck drivers across the U.S. and Canada who keep America rolling,” said Steve McClellan, vice president for commercial tire systems for The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.
“In this, the Goodyear Highway Hero Award’s 23rd year, it was especially difficult to select just four truck drivers who placed themselves in harm’s way to save someone else.
“Many truck drivers have become the eyes and ears of our highways, and they were busier than ever this year. With a devastating hurricane season and thousands of accidents, they responded heroically by delivering essential supplies to the Gulf Coast and risking their lives to save others.
“There’s no doubt that citizens of the U.S. and Canada are better off because of their actions,” McClellan said.
Journalists from the trucking industry are now voting on the drivers, who will be introduced March 23 at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky. One driver will be named the 2005 Goodyear North America Highway Hero at the Truck Writers of North America annual banquet and receive a $10,000 U.S. Savings Bond and a specially designed ring.
The finalists for 2005 are:
Michael Knott of Casselberry, Fla.; a driver for FedEx Ground, which is based in Pittsburgh. Knott, partially blocking traffic with his truck, saved an injured woman and her baby daughter from oncoming traffic as they lay on the Florida Turnpike in Osceola County on Oct. 13, 2005. Knott said he came upon a disabled car that partially blocked the left and center lanes, and he saw a woman lying on the road. He parked his truck in the right lane, ran to the woman and held her hand and kept talking to her as she was losing consciousness.
To his surprise, she asked him about her baby. Knott covered her with a sleeping bag, and then ran to her car to check on the baby. The child was missing from the car seat, so he returned to the woman, who said she lost control of her car and was carrying the baby across the highway when they were struck by a car, bouncing off the hood. Her daughter flew from her arms. A third vehicle also hit her car.
Knott retrieved a flashlight from his cab and searched for the baby. He found her lying on her back in the median. The baby lay motionless with her head on the gravel at the road’s edge. He checked for a pulse, and the girl responded to his touch. He covered the baby and returned to the mother.
The baby was found where traffic was rerouted to avoid the accident, and the baby’s head was only two feet from the car tires. Knott immediately stopped all traffic.
The mother then asked about her puppy, and he returned to her car to find the dog safe in the backseat. Knott said he kept the mother and baby warm, out of the rain and as comfortable as possible until the police and emergency teams arrived.
The victims were taken to the hospital and were in critical, but stable, condition.
Douglas Crawford, of Ashford, Ala.; a driver for Saia Motor Freight, based in Dothan, Ala. Crawford saved the life of another truck driver after seeing two trucks collide on I-85 near Newnan, Ga., on Aug. 25, 2005. Crawford watched a northbound truck cross the grass median and into the southbound lanes where it collided with another truck.
Both trucks exploded into flames. Crawford avoided an out-of-control car and parked his truck on the shoulder of the northbound lanes. He ran across the median and found the northbound truck’s wreckage in flames. The separated cab had disintegrated.
The other truck, also engulfed in flames, rested in the ditch. Crawford used a fire extinguisher to battle the fire and yelled for the driver, who was injured but able to respond.
Noticing that the rear wall of the tractor’s sleeper unit was destroyed, Crawford was able to walk into the tractor. The injured driver, covered in diesel fuel, could not move, so Crawford told the man to grab him around his neck and he pulled him from the burning cab by his shoulders.
Crawford found a safe area in the ditch, and moments later, the tractor exploded into flames. Crawford, with the assistance of a nurse who had stopped at the accident, gave first aid to the injured driver until paramedics arrived. A medical helicopter flew the injured driver to the hospital.
Danny R. Wallen, of Conover, Ohio, a driver for ABF Freight Systems Inc., based in Fort Smith, Ark. Wallen was traveling south on I-65 in Nashville, Tenn., on Sept. 9, 2005, when he saw a traffic accident in which a stalled car was struck by a sport-utility vehicle. He and two others saved a Thompson’s Station, Tenn., couple from the fiery crash.
Wallen stopped his truck and ran to the burning car with his fire extinguisher. He was then joined by another truck driver and a pedestrian in the rescue attempt. Wallen and the passerby pulled and carried a male driver from the flames. The other truck driver assisted the woman passenger.
The woman was screaming that her “baby” remained in the car. Wallen and the other truck driver returned to the burning car to find her 17-year-old daughter trapped in the backseat and screaming for help. They desperately tried to free her, but to no avail. The fire spread quickly from the ruptured gas tank, and the girl died.
A Nashville police officer arrived and quickly moved the two men away from the car. Suddenly, the gas tank exploded, fueling the fire out of control. The parents and the driver of the SUV were taken to separate hospitals; Wallen was treated for minor burns on his arms.
Sen. Robert A. Starr, of North Troy, Vt., a driver and owner of Starr’s Transportation, based in North Troy. Starr was traveling east on Hwy 40 near Trois Rivieres in Quebec, Canada, on Sept. 14, 2005, when the road collapsed, opening a massive crevice that crossed the four-lane road.
Starr was following a small car when its brake lights came on. To his amazement, the road ahead was disappearing. The car hit the caving pavement and spun out of control. His truck’s steer tires blew off the rims and the sinking roadway ripped the fuel tanks and drive axles from the frame.
The state senator’s truck burst into flames and slid out of control on its frame rails. It stopped about 20 feet from the wrecked car. Starr jumped from his burning truck, ran to the car and saw a woman trapped inside. Diesel fuel and oil from his truck surrounded the car.
Realizing that he only had seconds before the car burst into flames, he rushed to open the driver’s door, which was jammed shut.
He managed to pry the passenger door open, pulled the woman out and carried her to safety, just before the car caught fire.
The woman was treated for severe injuries, including a broken ankle, pelvis and multiple fractures to both legs.