A native of Maryland and currently a resident of Meridian, Mississippi, Chris Lloyd has lived in 12 states during his lifetime. As a professional truck driver for Airline Transportation Specialists of Eagan, Minnesota, however, he calls the entire country home.
It’s not a geographical location that makes Lloyd uniquely American — it’s the values he carries with him wherever he goes in his driving career. Traveling more than 1.7 million accident-free, ticket-free career miles across the lower 48, to Alaska twice, and through seven provinces and two territories in Canada, he lives by the code of hard work, love of family, and pitching in to help others whenever possible.
So, when the 40-year-old topped a crest in Nashville, Tennessee, last year and spotted a car engulfed in flames, his reaction was predictable. He pulled over to help. In doing so, he earned the Truckload Carriers Association’s (TCA) 2021 Highway Angel of the Year Award, presented by EpicVue.
Lloyd, while expressing his gratitude for the honor, said it was surreal to be honored simply for doing the right thing.
“I never expected anything. I did it because that’s the way I was raised,” he explained. “If someone needs help, you help. You don’t ask for anything or expect anything out of it.”
Lloyd’s path to that fateful night began early when he joined his local volunteer firefighting outfit at age 15. Following in the footsteps of several family members, he went into the service after graduating from high school, joining the U.S. Coast Guard.
“I had never been exposed to the Coast Guard, but the more I learned about it the more it clicked with my internal desire to help,” he shared. “Nothing against the other four branches; they keep us safe from the outside world. But the Coast Guard is making more of a day-to-day difference.”
Following his military service, Lloyd attended school to be a diesel mechanic, which he did for a couple of years before getting behind the wheel of a truck himself.
On that November morning, around 3 a.m., he was on his way to a FedEx facility.
“That wasn’t my normal run that night,” said Lloyd.
“The driver that usually takes that run had broken down,” he continued. “The dispatcher called and asked if I could take it. I was delayed by over an hour, but somehow it all lined up for me to be there.”
Lloyd came upon a car that had crashed into a galvanized power pole, apparently at a high rate of speed, and the engine compartment was in flames. Lloyd pulled over, called 911, and grabbed his fire extinguisher. The rest, he said, was pure reflex, triggered by all the lifesaving training he’d completed since high school.
“My firefighter training and Coast Guard training, it all just flipped back on, like flipping on a light switch,” he related. “Your brain just stores that file in the back of your head for later.”
Despite the chaos of the scene and a surge of adrenaline, Lloyd’s training helped him remain calm, evidenced from the moment he parked his truck to block oncoming traffic to the way he analyzed the situation and reacted.
“We needed fire, EMS and police response, but you have to prioritize. You can’t do three things at once,” he said. “What’s the most critical thing that needs to be addressed immediately? The car is on fire. Handle that first.”
Lloyd emptied his 3-pound extinguisher; then retrieved his 10-pounder from his truck to subdue the flames. He also grabbed a winch bar to break the windows of the locked car. Inside the smoke-filled cabin he saw two badly injured people, a woman pinned by the steering wheel and a man who had been thrown into the back seat.
Once the fire was extinguished, he began managing the assembled onlookers to keep them from making the injuries worse.
“(The driver) was unresponsive, but breathing,” he recalled. “The male passenger was in pretty bad shape. I checked and found a pulse, and he was breathing. One of the bystanders went to go move him and I grabbed his hand and said, ‘Don’t touch that man. If you move him, you could kill him.’”
Emergency vehicles soon arrived to take over, and as they did, the fire battalion chief took Lloyd aside. He said without Lloyd’s intervention the couple would’ve likely burned alive. Even though several onlookers were taking videos on their phones, only Lloyd had actually called 911 for help.
Lloyd’s story, along with the stories of two other highway heroes, advanced to the final round of consideration for Highway Angel of the Year, a round determined for the first time this year by a public vote. More than 1,600 people took part in the poll.
Lloyd was awarded a personalized crystal award and an EpicVue satellite TV package with flat-screen TV, DVR and a subscription of DIRECTV programming. He also earned a trip to Truckload 2022, held at the Wynn Las Vegas, for the awards ceremony.
About the only thing that’s missing at this point, he said, is knowing what happened to the people whose lives he saved.
“I tried calling the trauma hospital a couple times over the next week or two and said, ‘I don’t want to know their names or phone numbers or blood types or where they live or any of that, but did they survive? Just say yes or no, so I know,’’ he told Truckload Authority. “The hospital, they were nice, but they took HIPAA to extremes in my opinion. I’m like, ‘Look, I’m the one that stopped and put the fire out. I’m just wanting to know if they survived.’
“I just finally came to the point that I have to have faith that they did, and if they did, I hope they’re recovering,” he continued. “Or if they didn’t, at least they didn’t burn, and their families could get closure.”
Since 1997, the TCA Highway Angel program has recognized professional truck drivers who have selflessly helped others while on the job. From each year’s recipients, one is selected as Highway Angel of the Year as best embodying the spirit of the program.
For Lloyd, the daily routine has returned to normal, but life will never be the same.
“It’s been very humbling,” he shared.
“I’m just a simple man, raised out in the country. I do the right thing because if that were me or my loved ones, I’d want someone to do the same thing,” he explained. “I never in my life thought that I’d be recognized for just being me.”
To learn more about TCA’s Highway Angel program, or to nominate a deserving driver, visit highwayangel.org.
Dwain Hebda is a freelance journalist, author, editor and storyteller in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to The Trucker, his work appears in more than 35 publications across multiple states each year. Hebda’s writing has been awarded by the Society of Professional Journalists and a Finalist in Best Of Arkansas rankings by AY Magazine. He is president of Ya!Mule Wordsmiths, which provides editorial services to publications and companies.