On a muggy August night in 2020, professional truck driver Royford Burris saved a life along a rural Arkansas highway — and, in many ways, that event changed his own life.
Vivid images of mangled metal, flames, smoke, and death are stuck in his mind and still haunt him today. Even so, he said, he’s grateful he was there to help.
A driver for Stevens Transport in Dallas, Burris was named the 2020 Highway Angel of the Year by the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) and EpicVue for saving the life of a girl who survived that horrific traffic accident.
He was honored September 27 during Tuesday’s general session at Truckload 2021: Las Vegas.
At the awards ceremony, Burris called the event “a happy moment for me, but also a sad moment. I believe in God, so God makes everything possible. I can’t even talk about it. There is nothing good to talk about.”
The story of Burris’s heroic deed began the evening of August 23, 2020, as he drove his tractor-trailer U.S. 63 near Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, located in far northeast Arkansas. He had a load bound for Florida, and everything had been running smoothly.
A short time later, he saw two cars wrecked up ahead — and one of them was ablaze.
Burris guided his rig to the side of the road, parked safely, and grabbed his fire extinguisher. About the same time a motorist in a pickup truck arrived on scene, and the pair worked feverishly to extinguish the fire.
Burris then noticed a body lying several feet away from the wreckage. Realizing there was no hope for that person, he ran back to his truck and got a blanket to cover the body as other vehicles began to arrive at the scene.
Burris rushed to the other wrecked vehicle, a van, where he found the lifeless driver still behind the wheel. There was also a baby inside the vehicle, deceased.
Burris then noticed a young girl, who appeared to be 13 or 14, trapped in the front passenger seat. She told him she couldn’t breathe. He didn’t hesitate — he squeezed into the wreckage to be closer to the girl, and assured her everything would be all right.
“I was trying to break the seat apart,” he recalled. “I ripped the seatbelt out, but I didn’t know where I got the strength.”
Burris and a police officer worked together to extricate the girl through the vehicle’s window.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Burris. “Once I saw those cars, I knew that it was my duty to stop and help in any way I could. I’m sorry I couldn’t save the others.”
Burris labels the event as “the worst moment of my life,” adding that he is “glad I was there to do what I did to save these people’s lives” and expressing his appreciation for the honor of being named the Highway Angel of the Year. “I really appreciate you guys from the bottom of my heart. I am just overwhelmed.”
Burris said he often has flashbacks of the event, and even had to seek counseling to deal with the post-traumatic stress.
“I could not eat for three months,” he said. “But I have God.”
Stevens Transport’s Company Driver Manager Kenny Harwell said of Burris’s heroics: “Royford is a great driver, and this is just another example he sets. Not only is he a hardworking driver, father, and grandfather, but he is also a hero. We are extremely thankful to Royford for setting the standards, not only for his fellow drivers, but for all of us at Stevens.”
EpicVue Vice President of Sales Kyle Hales thanked Burris for his “selfless act of courage that night.”
Since 1997, TCA’s 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 because he or she best embodies the spirit of the program.
To nominate a deserving driver, visit highwayangel.org.
Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and raised in East Texas, John Worthen returned to his home state to attend college in 1998 and decided to make his life in The Natural State. Worthen is a 20-year veteran of the journalism industry and has covered just about every topic there is. He has a passion for writing and telling stories. He has worked as a beat reporter and bureau chief for a statewide newspaper and as managing editor of a regional newspaper in Arkansas. Additionally, Worthen has been a prolific freelance journalist for two decades, and has been published in several travel magazines and on travel websites.