ALEXANDRIA, Virginia — The Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) recently named three professional truck drivers to its pantheon of Highway Angels.
Since 1997, TCA, with program sponsor EpicVue, has used the Highway Angels program to recognize professional truck drivers for their acts of courtesy and courage in situations they encounter while out on the highway. These good deeds range from simple acts of kindness such as fixing a flat tire to heroic efforts in life-or-death scenarios.
The program has recognized over 1,250 Highway Angels over the years. The latest three to join that group are Brian Smith, of Louisville, Kentucky; Clyde Nelson of Neosho, Missouri; and Robert Wheeler of Crestwood, Kentucky.
Smith, a professional truck driver leased to Mercer Transportation Company was recognized for helping at the scene of a fiery crash that killed four people.
On March 25, Smith was driving his flatbed near Lordsburg, New Mexico, when he saw a huge plume of black smoke rise into the sky about a mile ahead. He came upon the scene of a collision between two tractor-trailers. One had crossed the center median, hitting the other head-on, along with a pickup truck. Both of the tractor-trailers had exploded.
At first look, Smith figured no one survived, but he saw people were trying to get someone out of the pickup. Smith pulled over and joined them. The pickup’s roof was ripped off. Smith could see two people in the front seat. Someone said the person in the passenger seat was already dead. The driver was unconscious and seriously injured.
“There were two other people trying to get him out of the pickup, but flames from the semis were spreading so fast and were getting too close to the vehicle,” Smith said. “They were trying to pull the pickup out with a two-strap (used for strapping cargo down) hooked to another pickup, but they’re not meant for that.”
Smith ran to his truck and grabbed a tow chain, with which they were able to drag the pickup away from fire. A 13-year-old girl was pulled from the back seat.
Smith later learned that the driver of the pickup also died. He doesn’t know how the girl is doing. “Because I know there’s a chance she survived, she’s on my mind,” Smith says. “I’ll probably never forget her face. It made me think of my own kids.”
Clyde Nelson, who drives for AATCO (Tri-State) of Joplin, Missouri, was recognized for his efforts to resuscitate a colleague after she collapsed from an apparent cardiac arrest.
Nelson was walking across the parking lot at work one morning in July when he saw a woman lying on the grass across the way. It was a nice day, and at figured she was taking a break and catching some rays. But something told him to go check on her. He was surprised to find her unconscious, with her eyes rolled back in her head. He said he patted her on the cheek, and she took a breath but then that was it.
Another person who rushed over to help found the woman had a pulse, but she wasn’t breathing. As Nelson began performing CPR, the woman’s pulse stopped, too. A third person came over and called 911.
Nelson had learned how to do CPR 40 years ago during Army basic training, but he didn’t know how to do chest compressions properly. The dispatcher talked him through it as they waited for help to arrive.
“It felt like someone was guiding my hands,” Nelson said. “I stayed as calm as I’ve ever been. I knew I had to think clearly about what I was doing.” When paramedics arrived, they had to use the defibrillator four times to get the woman’s heart going again.
The woman who collapsed is a colleague of Nelson’s. “I had spoken to her less than two minutes before that,” he says. “She was walking across the parking lot to put something in her car, but I didn’t see her collapse.” Nelson said he is thankful to the others who rushed over to help that day. “We were all praying she would make it.”
Nelson is also thankful for what he’s learned about CPR from watching television. “I knew that the rhythm from [the Bee Gees’] “Stayin’ Alive” is how fast to do chest compressions,” he said. “And you have to deflect about 3 inches to actually do any good but, it felt like I would break her ribs.”
Nelson said he was on a high for a week after that.
“Usually people who have those kinds of attacks, don’t survive,” he said. “I’m glad she’ll be coming back to work soon.”
Nelson hopes his experience will encourage others to step up in similar circumstances. He plans to become certified in CPR. “If I run across that situation again, I want to have the confidence to say I know how to help.”
Robert Wheeler, who works for Walmart Transportation of Seymour, Indiana, being recognized for his quick action when an SUV pulled into the path of oncoming van.
On August 9, Wheeler had just finished dropping and hooking a trailer in Greenwood, Indiana. He was heading south on Highway 135 when he saw an SUV pulling out of a strip mall parking lot without stopping The SUV pulled right into the path of a large commercial van. According to Wheeler, the van had no time to react and T-boned the SUV. Wheeler, who had been the van, immediately pulled over. He checked on the van driver, who was dazed but told Wheeler to check on the other vehicle.
The force of the impact had pushed the SUV about 100 feet, and all of its airbags had deployed. Wheeler cut away the curtain airbags. He first found a small boy, about 2 years old, crying in the backseat. Wheeler got the boy out of the car seat and handed him to a woman who had run up and asked to help. He then checked on the woman in the front passenger seat. She was unconscious, with injuries to her face. A nurse who was driving by stopped to help and attended to her. Wheeler went around to the driver’s side and found that the door had been pushed in around her legs. She was conscious but likely had broken bones and a possible neck injury. Wheeler told her not to move her head and that help was on the way.
“It was maybe just two minutes before help arrived,” Wheeler said. “There was a fire department about a mile down the road. They took the passenger out first, but it took them about 30 minutes to cut the driver out of the car.”
Wheeler said he has seen a lot of bad accidents but this one has really bothered him.
“The driver of the SUV simply overlooked the oncoming van,” he said. “She pulled into his lane and there was no stopping distance. There’s nothing the van could do.”
TCA presented Smith, Nelson and Wheeler with a certificate, patch, lapel pin, and truck decals. Their respective employers also received a certificate acknowledging their driver as a Highway Angel.
The Trucker News Staff produces engaging content for not only TheTrucker.com, but also The Trucker Newspaper, which has been serving the trucking industry for more than 30 years. With a focus on drivers, the Trucker News Staff aims to provide relevant, objective content pertaining to the trucking segment of the transportation industry. The Trucker News Staff is based in Little Rock, Arkansas.