It was just another “day at the office” for Junichi Shimizu Feb. 20, 2009, his office being the cab of a tractor-trailer.
His trailer was empty at the completion of another trip hauling furniture and other household goods for Chapman Relocations, a moving and storage company based in Alameda, Calif.
It was about 7:30 in the evening and he was headed westbound on Highway 12.
His final destination was Fairfield, Calif. (just north of San Francisco), where Chapman has a terminal.
Highway 12 is one of those rural two-lane roads truckers (and drivers of four-wheelers) despise.
We get used to traveling those multi-lane interstates and just the thought of a two-lane highway makes us shudder.
But just miles short of his destination, the unthinkable happened.
Shimizu and the other motorists were going about 55 miles per hour.
Farms dotted the landscape on either side of the highway.
About 75 yards in front of him was a BMW with three occupants.
There was oncoming traffic, he recalls.
One of those oncoming cars crossed the center line and collided head on with the BMW.
The impact knocked the BMW to the side of the road and the oncoming vehicle came spinning down the road toward Shimizu’s tractor.
“There was no way I could get out of the way,” he recalled in an interview with The Trucker. “I hammered on my brakes and put myself in the ditch, but it was still too late. He took out the front end of my truck. As he was spinning, he was on fire. I ran around my truck to see if he was alive, but he was lodged in the car. At that point, I told him to lean back and I punched out the glass with my hand and pulled the door open enough to free his leg.”
There, he found the driver dead and two teenage passengers alive.
By this time, with the road blocked, other drivers had descended on the scene.
“Myself and a couple of other drivers pulled them out and I ran to my trailer and got some pads, covered the person who was deceased and gave some cover to the people who were injured,” Shimizu, who lives in Gladstone, Ore., said.
Once the passengers were removed, Shimizu retrieved his fire extinguisher to keep the blaze under control until the local fire department arrived.
The three rescued individuals had extensive injuries, but all survived.
For his efforts, Shimizu was named the Goodyear Highway Hero for 2009.
He was presented his award at the annual Truck Writers of North America banquet during the Mid-America Trucking Show in March.
Shimizu was one of four finalists for the award, the winner of which is chosen by a vote of a panel of truck writers.
The others included:
• George Lantzy of Turtle Creek, Pa., a driver for Fubar Trucking. who saved the life of an elderly woman driver who had passed out and was slumped over the steering wheel on Route 22 outside of Weirton, W. Va. Her car was drifting into traffic so Lantzy made a snap decision to get involved. He maneuvered his rig alongside the car, then drove in front to allow the car to contact the rear of his trailer, thus creating an impromptu roadblock and easing the woman’s car away from danger. Once he was able to force the out-of-control car to a standstill, police and paramedics arrived. The driver, who had suffered a heart attack, was transported to a nearby hospital where she made a full recovery following surgery.
• Stephen Page of Gloucester, Mass., a driver for Pit Bull Trucking. Page was driving along I-80 on July 14 near Clearfield, Pa., when he spotted a fire in the woods alongside the roadway. He and another driver ran into the woods to find the burning wreckage of a double-unit rig that had gone nearly 1,500 feet off the highway. Upon reaching the driver of the truck, he first believed the driver had not survived, but then realized he had lost consciousness. With the help of two more truckers who had stopped, the injured driver was removed before the tractor and trailer were completely destroyed by fire. Page stayed with the injured driver, talking with him as he drifted in and out of consciousness. With severe burns, the man was eventually flown to a hospital. He has a long road to recovery, but is alive thanks to the lifesaving efforts of Page and others.
• Jesse Lee Seal of Alma, Ark., a driver PDP Unlimited. Early on Oct. 7, Seal was driving his 18-wheeler southbound on I-530 near Little Rock when another truck ahead of him abruptly swerved left, went across the median and the northbound lanes, eventually coming to rest on an opposite embankment. As this happened, the truck lost a fuel tank, which caught fire. Seal quickly stopped his truck, grabbed his fire extinguisher and ran across the lanes to provide assistance. As he passed by, he extinguished the burning fuel tank, then hurried to the disabled truck. Once there, he was able to open the hot door, put out the fire that was burning the driver’s legs, and cut the seat belt to remove the injured driver.
Four drivers, four heroic acts.
These four might have been singled out, but we know the brave acts these men carried out are repeated dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of times each year by other truckers who are never singled out in an awards program.
So to all you men and women who have ever dared step into harm’s way to help someone in distress, a big THANK YOU.
Lyndon Finney of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.