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California driver named 31st Goodyear Highway Hero

Ivan Vasovic accepts the award as the Goodyear Highway Hero of the year during a news conference at the Mid-America Trucking Show Thursday. (The Trucker: DOROTHY COX)

By LYNDON FINNEY
The Trucker Staff

3/27/2014

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A truck driver who rescued another trucker who had fallen from a burning tanker truck that was hanging over the side of a freeway overpass has been named the 31st Goodyear Highway Hero.

Chosen from four finalists, Ivan Vasovic of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., Thursday accepted the 31st Goodyear North America Highway Hero Award at a news conference during the Mid-America Trucking Show under way here.

“I didn’t expect this, but I’m appreciative that someone recognized this and thank you so much to everybody,” Vasovic said in accepting the award.

The other finalists were Brian Dunn, a driver from Knoxville, Tenn.; Tim Horton, a driver from Sheridan, Ark.; and Scott Rosenberg, a driver from Isanti, Minn.

The most emotional time during the ceremony came when Horton learned that the parents of the teenager whom he had rescued were in the audience for the ceremony.

The recognition of Scott and Karen Nelson of Nashville, Tenn., as Horton was being introduced brought several in the audience, including the parents near tears.

After the ceremony both Nelsons gave Horton a tight and long hug.

“Those were the longest four-and-a-half hours,” Karen Nelson said of the drive from Nashville to Tuscaloosa, Ala., where the accident occurred.

A panel of trucking journalists pick the winner from among the four finalists.

Vasovic was in his truck in Los Angeles, Calif., last October when he witnessed a double tanker truck hit the concrete divider of a freeway overpass, careen off a wall and slam into a guard rail. Its tanks, which were full of diesel, ripped open and the truck came to a stop with its tractor and first tanker hanging over the side of the overpass.

The truck’s driver was trapped inside when the diesel ignited. The driver, now on fire, kicked out a window, slid down the truck and fell to the ground, breaking an arm and leg. By that point, the suspended truck was engulfed in flames with black clouds of smoke billowing from it.

Vasovic and another bystander tried to pull the injured driver to safety. However, due to the intense heat, they could only drag him a few yards at a time. Vasovic dashed back to his truck and poured water on himself, which enabled him to drag the badly injured driver 20 yards away from his original position. Moments later, the entire burning tanker truck crashed to the ground.

 “Ivan’s quick thinking and brave actions saved a fellow truck driver from a life-threatening situation,” said Gary Medalis, marketing director, Goodyear Commercial Tire Systems, who presented the award to Vasovic. “He literally put himself in harm’s way to save another person’s life. Ivan’s decision to interject himself into this deadly scenario is a powerful example of the selflessness exhibited by professional truck drivers. He has earned the right to be called a Highway Hero.”

As the 31st Goodyear Highway Hero Award winner, Vasovic receives a special Highway Hero

Dunn was driving down a highway in Oklahoma when he saw a car crash through a guard rail and land on its roof in the middle of the road. He ran to the car as its engine caught fire. Running back to his truck to grab his fire extinguisher, Dunn heard a child crying. He spotted a two-year-old boy who was trapped in the back seat of the burning car. Braving the flames, Dunn yanked on the car’s door until it gave way, allowing him to rescue the child, whom he then handed to bystanders. Dunn ran back to his car for his fire extinguisher while other bystanders tried to rescue the boy’s mother, who had driven the car. They later learned that she died as a result of the crash.

Horton was driving outside Tuscaloosa when the small car the young Nelson was driving passed his truck, lost control and drove into a 35-foot-deep ravine, landing upside down in a creek bed. The car’s driver, a teenager, was trapped inside the car and had suffered a large cut on his head. Horton flagged down the driver of another vehicle, who happened to be a volunteer firefighter. The two men made their way down the steep, brush-covered embankment. They found the teenager alive, but bleeding heavily. Horton cut the teenager’s seat belt and pulled him from the car. After Horton and the volunteer firefighter stabilized the teenager’s condition, Horton called for additional help. It took 10 men using a 50-foot fire ladder to transport the teenager to a waiting ambulance.

Rosenberg had just dropped off a load in Stillwater, Minn., when he spotted a pickup truck that was upside down in a pond with steam rising from it. At the time, Rosenberg was driving a trailer with a boom crane used for loading heavy concrete products. Acting quickly, he positioned his crane in place, hoping to flip the pickup over and back onto its wheels.

In the meantime, two other men had reached the pickup and were trying to pry its doors open, to no avail. Using his crane, Rosenberg turned the pickup right-side up. Its driver, a college student who had fallen asleep at the wheel, was still alive. Police then arrived and pulled him from the vehicle.

 “Each of our Highway Hero Award finalists is a hero in his own right,” said Medalis. “We are honored to recognize these selfless individuals for their acts of courage and compassion. They truly are a credit to their profession.”

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.
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