ALEXANDRIA, Va. — Joseph Wilbur, Jim Kurent and Terry Whittington have been named Highway Angels by the Truckload Carriers Association for heroic actions while on duty.
Kurent, who lives in Burlington, Vermont, and drivers for ABF Freight System of Fort Smith, Arkansas, was recognized for acting quickly to avoid a major highway collision.
On January 19, Kurent was on a two-lane highway in Vermont when a Subaru going in the opposite direction at 50 mph when it crossed over the center line right in front of him. Without a moment to spare, he swerved to avoid hitting the car head-on. The car bounced off the side of Kurent’s truck and ended up on the other side of the road.
Kurent’s truck slid in to a ditch, but he was able to get out of the cab. Uninjured, he walked over to check on the driver of the Subaru. It was later determined that the man was apparently listening to a book on tape and was distracted; the motorist did not notice he had drifted into oncoming traffic.
“I wouldn’t say this was a heroic deed, but I was just alert and doing my job as I always do,” Kurent said. “The driver of the car made a comment that my actions saved his life. I don’t know about that. But if I wouldn’t have been alert and swerved into the ditch, 50 miles an hour versus 50 miles an hour head-on would not have turned out as safe as it did.”
Wilbur, who lives in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and is a professional truck driver with ABF Freight System, was recognized for assisting at the scene of an accident caused by a wrong-way driver.
It was 3 a.m. and Wilbur had just left New Haven, Connecticut, and was northbound on I-95. Wilbur is a utility driver for ABF but was filling in for someone that night. Driving along, something caught his attention on the southbound side. Taillights. A wrong-way driver was in the left lane driving north, against traffic.
Wilbur called 911 and was connected to a dispatcher with the Connecticut State Police. He managed to keep pace with the wrong-way driver, calling out mile markers and exits along the way to the dispatcher.
Thankfully, traffic was light. Southbound drivers were doing their best to avoid a collision. However, Wilbur said, the wrong-way driver never slowed down or swerved. As the driver approached a cluster of vehicles, one car didn’t have enough time to move out of the way.
The wrong-way driver hit the vehicle head-on, spinning it off to the side as the wrong-way driver’s vehicle rolled multiple times, right next to Wilbur, and landed on its roof. Wilbur quickly pulled to the shoulder and jumped the barrier. He could see red flashing lights coming toward the scene. It was an EMT, driving solo on his way back from a transport.
Wilbur and the EMT managed to pull back the driver’s door and found the driver unconscious and hanging upside down, still in his seat belt. Wilbur told the EMT he would help him extract the man. The EMT handed him sterile gloves and Wilbur crawled into the car to lift the pressure off the belt as the EMT cut it.
They then slid the driver out of the vehicle as he regained consciousness and began thrashing about. Wilbur stayed with the driver, who appeared to have head injuries, and kept him still while the EMT retrieved a neck collar.
Whittington, who lives in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and is a professional truck driver with ABF Freight System, also of Fort Smith, has been recognized for helping a fellow truck driver that was struck by a passing motorist while inspecting his vehicle.
It was 7:30 a.m. in June 2018, and Whittington was leaving Fontana, California, on Interstate 10 on his way back to his home terminal in Phoenix. He slowed as he saw an accident up ahead of him. Another tractor-trailer was parked on the right shoulder and Whittington could see what appeared to be a tarp lying in the road. However, as he got closer, he realized it was a man lying in the road. Whittington quickly pulled to the right shoulder and ran over to the man, calling 911 as he did so. The driver was conscious and crying out for someone to help him get up.
Whittington learned the man was a driver for Roehl Transport who had pulled over to check his equipment when he was struck by a U-Haul vehicle pulling a car. The U-Haul had drifted toward the right shoulder when it struck the Roehl driver. The man’s legs were badly injured. Whittington got a jacket from his cab to place over the driver as he was clearly in shock and losing a great deal of blood. Whittington stayed with the driver to comfort him until first responders arrived. He later learned the driver passed away in the ambulance en route to the hospital.
“It was horrible,” Whittington said. “I just wanted to sit there and cry.” Over the ensuing days he had a hard time sleeping. “I kept envisioning that poor man and how he was asking me to help him get up. All he did was pull over to check his equipment and now he’s dead. People need to pay more attention when they’re out there on the road.”
Whittington has been a teamster for 32 years and has worked for ABF Freight for three years.
For their willingness to help in a time of need, Wilbur, Kurent and Whittington were presented with a certificate, patch, lapel pin and truck decals. ABF Freight has also received a certificate acknowledging their drivers as Highway Angels. Since the program’s inception in August 1997, hundreds of drivers have been recognized as Highway Angels for the exemplary kindness, courtesy, and courage they have displayed while on the job. EpicVue sponsors TCA’s Highway Angel program.