Professional truck drivers Royford Burris, Joseph Brown, Christina Castillo, Phil Cicero, Clayvon Daniels, William and Becky Gregory, Ken Lukomski, and Earl Morgan-Heft have been named Highway Angels by the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) for their acts of heroism while on the road.
Since the program’s inception in August 1997, nearly 1,300 professional truck drivers have been recognized as Highway Angels for the exemplary kindness, courtesy, and courage they have displayed while on the job. The program is made possible by Presenting Sponsor EpicVue and Supporting Sponsor DriverFacts.
Royford Burris, who drives for Stevens Transport and lives in Lauderhill, Florida, is being honored for stopping to help at the scene of a two-car collision that resulted in multiple fatalities.
The evening of August 23, 2020, is one that Burris will never forget. He was traveling on U.S. Highway 63 near Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, with a load bound for Orlando, Florida. He had just ended a call with his wife so he could focus on his descent down the mountainous, winding terrain when he saw two cars in the middle of the road. One was on fire. A silver van had drifted over the centerline and collided head-on with a red car coming from the other direction.
As he approached the scene, Burris safely pulled over and turned on his flashers. A pickup pulled up at the same time.
“We were the first ones on the scene,” recalled Burris. “We grabbed our fire extinguishers and ran to the red car.” After they extinguished the flames, Burris and the motorist discovered the driver’s body lying about 20 feet away. “It was horrible,” he said. Other cars were beginning to approach the scene. “I didn’t want anyone else to see that.” He ran back to his truck and grabbed a towel to cover the body.
Burris and the other driver then rushed to the van, which was badly mangled. The woman in the driver’s seat was deceased. Burris carefully lifted her out of the vehicle. EMTs had arrived and put her on a stretcher. He learned that her 6-month-old baby, who had been in a car seat in the back, had also died. The only survivor was a girl, who appeared to be 13 or 14 years old. She was trapped in the front passenger seat. “She was crying and in pain,” said Burris. “She said she couldn’t breathe. I said, ‘look at me. I’m not going to let you die. I promise.’” He called a police officer over and asked him to help. Burris kicked out the back door and climbed in to retrieve her. “I was trying to break the seat apart. I ripped the seatbelt out. I don’t know where I got the strength,” he said. Burris struggled to free the girl and was finally able to extract her through the window and hand her off to the officer.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” shared Burris. “I had just told my wife that things were going well and the road was so calm. Once I saw those cars, I knew that it was my duty to help in any way I could. I’m sorry I couldn’t save the others.”
As Burris was leaving the scene, officers thanked him for his heroic actions and offered to escort him to the nearest safe haven, which Burris accepted. He has received updates on the girl’s condition and is relieved to know she is now home with her father.
“Royford is a great driver and this is just another example he sets,” shared Stevens Transport Driver Manager Kenny Harwell. “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. He is a true asset to Stevens, and I’m proud to work with him day in and day out.”
Joseph Brown, from South Bend, Indiana, who drives for Halvor Lines Inc., is being honored for stopping to help a driver after his tractor-trailer was overturned in a heavy rainstorm.
On August 10, 2020, the State of Iowa was hit with a driving rainstorm, carried along by 99 mph winds. Brown was on Interstate 35 in rural Iowa, headed north toward Minneapolis.
“It was getting really bad out,” he shared. “I’ve never driven in anything like that. You could barely see 20 feet in front of you.”
He slowed down and pulled over for a few minutes, but the winds were pushing the truck. “A lot of trucks and cars were passing by,” he recalled.
Brown decided to get back on the road. He was thankful for the extra weight of the load he was hauling. He went a little farther down the road and saw an overturned truck, with the cab lying on its passenger side in the right lane. Brown pulled up about 20 feet from the truck and put his flashers on. He wanted to protect the overturned cab from traffic. “Trucks were flying by him and cars were going around. I wasn’t sure it was safe to get out,” Brown recalled. He sat parked for a couple minutes, and then the rain let up.
“I decided to check on the driver,” said Brown. “I didn’t want to hesitate any longer.”
He went over and found the driver standing up inside the cab. He had been able to
maneuver out of his seatbelt. “He was standing there, wet. I offered to have him come and sit in my truck,” shared Brown. “He said he’d been [a driver] for 20 years.”
Although the driver didn’t have any visible injuries, he told Brown his shoulders were hurting from the seat belt. He had already called 911. As they waited, Brown was worried about someone hitting them. “You couldn’t see 5 feet in front of you at one point,” Brown recalled. “I was relying on my flashers so we wouldn’t get hit. It was too windy to put triangles out.” Flares would have been extinguished by the wind and rain.
The two men sat there for half an hour. Brown said the fire department was the first on the scene. EMTs assessed the driver and put him in an ambulance. Brown and the driver have stayed in touch.
“There are a lot of good drivers out there,” he said. “We gotta look out for one another.”
Christina Castillo, who is from Union City, California, and drives for TForce Logistics, is being honored for coming to the aid of an elderly woman who collapsed in the street during a health emergency.
Castillo was driving down a residential street in Castro Valley, California, on the morning of October 1, 2020, when she saw an elderly woman walking along the sidewalk to the right of her.
“She was staggering a bit, which caught my attention,” said Castillo. “She was holding onto the fencing and stopped for a moment. Then she started walking again, so I figured she was okay.”
Castillo continued, making her delivery at a nearby school. That day, she happened to have another delivery on the same street and made a U-turn. She saw the woman again. “At that point, she took a few steps and then fell into the street,” recalled Castillo.
Acting swiftly, Castillo turned around, put her hazards on, and positioned her truck in the roadway to divert oncoming traffic.
Castillo found the woman, who was in her late 70s, unresponsive. “It was staggeringly hot outside, in the 90s,” she recalled. “I thought she had heat exhaustion. Her breathing was very shallow.”
Castillo called 911. She took her mask off and leaned in close to see if the woman was breathing. “COVID never crossed my mind,” she said. “I just wanted to help her.” The woman began to turn a bit blue.
Castillo was prepared to do chest
compressions, but the 911 dispatcher told her not to; that an ambulance was close by. “When the paramedics arrived, they gave her oxygen and her color started coming back, and her vital signs were very strong,” shared Castillo.
Castillo learned the woman had suffered a heart attack that day. A few days later, the family contacted her to let her know the woman had died. She did not have COVID-19. They told Castillo her actions that day gave them the opportunity to gather and be with their mother and grandmother in her last days.
Castillo and her husband are independent contractors with TForce Logistics, which is a third-party contracted with Office Depot/Office Max. Before becoming a driver, Castillo went to nursing school. She took a break to work with her husband as a driver. “Being out on the road … I enjoy what I do,” Castillo said.
Phil Cicero, who lives in Cedar Lake, Indiana, and drives for ABF Freight System Inc., is being honored for his actions when he encountered a lost child, stepped in, and safely returned the child to his parent.
Cicero had come into Nashville, Tennessee, from Chicago on the morning of July 30, 2020. After leaving his truck at the ABF Freight terminal, he was checking into a hotel for a scheduled rest when a young boy ran past him from the elevator area. “He was maybe 2 or 2 ½ years old,” said Cicero.
It was around 8:30 a.m., and the boy was dressed only in underwear. “He ran straight outside and stood by the shuttle van for a moment.” There didn’t seem to be anyone around who knew the child. Concerned, Cicero left his things at the counter and went out to see where the boy was going.
“He took off at a dead run,” recalled Cicero. “He was heading straight to the entrance of the hotel, where cars exit and enter.” Without a moment to spare, the ABF driver walked briskly behind the boy, but decided he’d better run to catch up to him. The father of four children, Cicero scooped the child up and brought him back to the hotel.
“There were no parents around,” he recalled. He took the boy to the manager’s office, but he was too young to provide them with any information as to where he might belong.
“We went back out to the lobby and gave him some water and chips. He wasn’t crying and was seemingly content,” said Cicero. “The manager called the police and they arrived within what seemed to be minutes.”
Cicero and the police thought there might be a parent or family upstairs and chalked it up to a miscommunication. Eventually, a father figure came down, along with a sibling, to claim the young child. Cicero said he is thankful things turned out well.
Clayvon Daniels, who also drives for ABF Freight System Inc., and lives in Red Oak, Texas, is being honored for stopping to help a driver following a vehicle rollover accident.
On the evening of May 31, 2020, Daniels was on Route 12 in Irving, Texas, on his way to San Antonio, when a vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed approached on his driver’s side.
“I looked in my mirror and saw him kind of weaving,” Daniels shared with TCA. Weather and road conditions were good that evening. “I slowed down and thought, ‘Man, this guy is gonna lose control.’ He came directly in front of my truck and veered all the way to the right.” The driver’s car then hit the concrete median so hard it ricocheted, rolled over, and skidded back across the road.
“If I wouldn’t have slowed down, he would have bounced off my truck,” recalled Daniels. Acting swiftly, he stopped in the middle of the highway to ensure other vehicles wouldn’t hit the overturned car.
“It shut the whole highway down. About four or five of us stopped and rushed to get the guy out of the car. He was hollering and really bloody,” Daniels shared. “It was something … could have been a whole lot worse.”
Emergency vehicles arrived approximately 20 minutes later.”
Daniels has been driving for 18 years. “I stop and help when I can. I told my wife I’ve never had an accident, and thank God for that. I hope someone would help me,” he shared.
William and Becky Gregory
William and Becky Gregory, who live in Shelbyville, Tennessee, and drive for Titan Transfer, are being honored for rescuing and caring for a boy following a two-vehicle crash that killed the child’s father.
The Gregorys are owner-operators who team drive. Around 9 p.m. on June 4, 2020, they were westbound on Interstate 40, driving a load to California. William was behind the wheel and Becky was in the sleeper with their dog. Traffic came to a stop, and he moved to the slow lane.
“There were four trucks ahead me,” recalled William. “I could see people running with fire extinguishers.” He quickly jumped out and ran up to see if he could help.
“Two cars had hit head on,” he shared. The first vehicle was on the shoulder of the road, and the elderly driver was deceased. The other vehicle was on fire. “There were several people using fire extinguishers,” William said.
He could see this driver was also deceased. “There was a boy slumped down on the floorboard, but we had to get the flames extinguished before we could get him out,” shared William.
The vehicle was crumpled. The group worked quickly. Once the flames were out, one driver pulled up on the dash. The windshield was already gone. William helped the 10-year-old boy out of the wreckage and handed him to another driver, who held him until help arrived.
“We sat there and talked to him,” shared William. “He kept asking for his dad. We told him people were taking care of him.” The boy was badly hurt, sustaining many broken bones.
Becky was awakened by the couple’s barking dog. “She got out of the truck, wondering what was going on,” said William. “We sat there and talked to the boy to keep him calm until the Life Flight arrived and took him,” William added.
The Gregorys learned a couple weeks later the child had several surgeries and was expected to make a full recovery. “I’ve come across some rough ones (accidents),” shared William, “but this was the worst.” William has been driving for 28 years. He and Becky have been married for 33 years and team driving for 20 years.
Lukomski, who is from South Bend, Indiana, and drives for Veriha Trucking Inc., is being honored for stopping to help at the scene of a serious head-on collision.
Lukomski was driving eastbound on Interstate 44 near Marshfield, Missouri, on September 10, 2020, when he came upon a serious accident. An eastbound SUV had driven off the road, broken through the cable barriers in the median, and entered the westbound lanes, where it crashed head-on into another vehicle. Without a moment to spare, Lukomski safely pulled over and jumped out with his gear in hand.
He ran over to a small car occupied by a driver and two small children. He pulled a little girl, about 7 years old, out of the vehicle and laid her down in the median.
“She was seriously injured and wasn’t breathing,” shared Lukomski. “There was a woman there who began doing CPR, but she was struggling.”
Lukomski took over and helped to get the girl breathing again. “I ran back and got the toddler and pulled him out in his car seat,” he said. “He had a small laceration above his eye.” Lukomski then worked with other drivers to extract the driver, an off-duty Webster County sheriff’s deputy, who had sustained grave injuries.
“I assured him his kids were okay,” said Lukomski. “He grabbed my hand as they were getting ready to air-evac him and told me to look after his babies.”
Unfortunately, the deputy, Sgt. Justin Burney, died from his injuries. His young daughter sustained serious injuries, but is now home with her little brother, who was not seriously injured.
“When I found out the father had passed, it choked me up,” shared Lukomski. “We have to have a sense of humanity and compassion for others. As a professional driver, it’s my responsibility to protect others on the road,” he added. “I have the skills and background and training, and I feel it’s a duty to follow through and represent. You hope the outcome will be for the best. But we know there are tragedies out there.”
Lukomski has been driving for six years. He grew up in Montana and has worked on a search-and-rescue team. “The greatest high is the achievement element,” he said. “You set out to achieve a goal and you do it. I enjoy being able to help people and make a difference.”
Earl Morgan-Heft, from Lone Rock, Wisconsin, and a driver for Fortrans Inc., is being honored for freeing a father and son from their burning vehicle following a multiple-vehicle accident.
The early morning of June 12, 2020, was an excruciatingly bad one on the northbound roadways of Interstates 90, 94 and 39 near Lodi, Wisconsin. Three traffic accidents, built one upon another, resulted in the loss of several lives and many injuries. The first in the series of crashes occurred at 3:53 a.m. involving a rear-end crash between two semi trucks. Then at 5:11 a.m., another truck slammed into the first crash scene. The third and final crash, at 6:45 a.m., was by far the worst – and Morgan–Heft was a witness to it.
Morgan-Heft was northbound from Madison, Wisconsin, and he could see there was an issue up ahead and road closure signs. He slowed down and came to a stop with surrounding traffic. Suddenly he heard a horrific bang. As he checked his left mirror he watched helplessly as a semi truck traveling at highway speeds crashed into a dump truck several vehicles behind him. The crash started a chain reaction involving eight vehicles behind Morgan-Heft.
Horrified, he jumped out of his truck. “Cars were smoking,” he recalled. “I saw a pickup that was on fire with survivors in it. I yelled over to them, ‘I’m gonna get you out!’”
Without a moment to spare, he started to run back to his truck to fetch a fire extinguisher but could hear popping noises from the pickup. “There was no time,” he said.
He rushed to the passenger side of the pickup, where he saw a young teen. His father was in the driver’s seat.
“The whole side of the pickup was crushed in and everything was twisted,” recalled Morgan-Heft. He was able to pry open the back door. Two other bystanders came running to help.
“We pulled the passenger out through the back door and they got him up near the road while I went around to get the father.” He gave it everything he had and managed to pull the man out and move him away from the vehicle. Minutes later the truck was completely engulfed in flames.
Morgan-Heft shared with TCA that the father and son survived. He talked with the man’s wife and learned that, while both sustained serious injuries, they are expected to survive.
Morgan-Heft received a letter of thanks from the Wisconsin State Patrol inspector who was at the scene and took Morgan-Heft’s statement.
“I wanted to personally thank you for your actions,” the letter read. “To me you are a hero and should feel extremely proud of yourself. You did a fantastic job, and your actions gave two people a second chance at life. To have the bravery to run towards the fire and help is incredible.”
Morgan-Heft has been driving for 27 years.
For their willingness to assist fellow drivers and motorists, TCA has presented each Highway Angel with a certificate, patch, lapel pin, and truck decals. Their employers have also received a certificate acknowledging their driver as a Highway Angel.
To nominate a driver, or to meet additional recipients, visit highwayangel.com.