Highway Angels | May-June

330
1015 Highway Angel logo spacing2

Professional truck drivers William Church, Stan Clayton, Demetrius Fields, Morgan Kirkland, Christopher Lloyd, William “Bill” McNamee, team drivers Kloe Myers and John Dowdy, John Vesey, and Bill Younger 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 courtesy, and courage they have displayed while on the job. The program is made possible by presenting sponsor, EpicVue, and supporting sponsor, DriverFacts.

WILLIAM CHURCH

William Church, who drives for CFI and lives in DeLand, Florida, is being honored for stopping to help a family after their vehicle caught fire.

Church was driving on Interstate 80 near Council Bluffs, Iowa, one evening in late July 2020 when he saw flames coming from underneath the car in front of him. Without a moment to spare, he pulled over to the shoulder when the driver did and jumped out of his cab to assist.

William Church
William Church

“The flames were coming from underneath the engine,” Church shared with TCA. He quickly helped the two adults pull two small children, a toddler and a 4- or 5-year-old girl, out of the vehicle. As Church ran to get his fire extinguisher, he told the adults to get the children as far away from the vehicle as possible. Church was able to extinguish the fire. He said he is thankful no one was injured.

“The kids were crying, so I let them see inside the passenger side of my truck,” he said. “I gave them each a cookie and let them honk the horn.” Although the driver and passengers were shaken, they thanked him for stopping to help. First responders arrived within five minutes.

Church, who has been driving for 14 years, always carries a first-aid kit with him.

“I love this profession,” he said. “This is a career for me, and I want to make a difference. I enjoy what I do, and I like being helpful. I want to make sure everyone’s okay out here.”

STAN CLAYTON

Stan Clayton, who drives for ABF Freight System, Inc., of Fort Smith, Arkansas, and lives in Cherryville, North Carolina, is being honored for helping a fellow truck driver after his truck rolled over on a highway exit ramp.

It was the evening of June 26, 2020, and Clayton was traveling on Interstate 26 near Spartanburg, South Carolina. As he approached the exit ramp for I-85, he witnessed another truck with a 53-foot trailer lose control on the ramp and topple over onto its side.

Stan Clayton
Stan Clayton

“It was a dogleg hook and it looked like he was going too fast for it,” recalled Clayton. “He laid it right over on its side.”

Clayton and a car in front of him safely moved to the shoulder and rushed over to the overturned truck.

“I looked through the front windshield and he was lying on the driver’s side door,” Clayton shared.

The truck’s engine was still in drive and the tires were spinning, and the driver seemed to be disoriented. The windshield was already bowed, so Clayton popped it out carefully and crawled inside the cab.

“The driver was just looking around,” he said. “He said the seatbelt was hurting him. The steering wheel was pushing into him, too. He didn’t know what happened and didn’t believe me when I told him he had a wreck.”

Clayton turned the engine off and then worked to release the driver’s seatbelt. His attempts to free the disoriented driver scared the driver who pushed him back, causing Clayton to fall out of the broken windshield. He sustained a serious laceration to his leg that began bleeding quite heavily.

When the paramedics arrived, they were  concerned about Clayton’s injury. However, he refused an ambulance ride to the hospital, insisting that he wanted to get his truck safely secured first. According to his manager, Clayton got back in his ABF tractor and returned to the service center, clocked out, and then proceeded to the emergency room to get medical attention. The slash to his leg cut an artery and required 22 stitches. Clayton’s injured leg has healed well and he’s back at work.

Clayton later learned the driver had been running empty with about 44,000 pounds of steel racks in the back. He believes the racks must have shifted when the driver took the curve on the exit ramp.

To watch a video of Clayton as he recounts his story, visit www.highwayangel.org/recipients.

DEMETRIUS FIELDS

Demetrius Fields, who lives in Atlanta and drives for Hirschbach of Dubuque, Iowa, is being honored for stopping to help a family after their vehicle spun out in the middle of a busy highway during a winter storm.

Fields was driving through Pennsylvania on December 16, 2020, as Winter Storm Gail was closing in. He was heading to Indiana, and Pennsylvania was preparing to close the interstates as conditions worsened.

Demetrius Fields
Demetrius Fields

“It was coming down heavy, pretty much a whiteout,” he recalled. “You could barely see the hash lines on the road.”

As Fields drove along, he saw a vehicle ahead spin out, hit the guardrail, and end up in the middle of the roadway. “He probably hit black ice,” shared Fields.

Acting swiftly, Fields pulled to the emergency lane and put on his flashers. A Swift Transportation truck driver pulled over at about the same time. “We both jumped out,” noted Fields. “There was heavy traffic coming up behind, especially trucks. We wanted to get the vehicle off the roadway because of the poor visibility.”

Fields and the Swift driver worked quickly to help the driver out of the vehicle, and the three of them risked their lives to push the vehicle into the emergency lane. “We then got the driver’s wife and kids out and put the kids in my cab to keep them warm,” shared Fields. It took first responders more than 30 minutes to arrive.

“God put me and that Swift driver in the right place at the right time,” said Fields. “If I was in that situation, I would hope someone would do the same for me.” The driver later contacted Hirschbach to say that the experience with Fields had given him a newfound respect for truck drivers.

“A lot of people don’t acknowledge what we do,” Fields added. “We’re out here day in and day out, running up and down the highway, trying to make sure people across the country are taken care of. It’s a lot more than holding a steering wheel. It’s 90% mental and 10% physical.”

Fields has been driving for five years and was also a trainer for a couple years. “I enjoyed it,” he concluded. “My very first student was my father. It was supposed to be a one-and-done but I enjoyed it so I kept doing it.” He says he does this work for his wife and four children.

MORGAN KIRKLAND

Morgan Kirkland, who lives in Milton, Florida, and drives for Groendyke Transport of Little Rock, Arkansas, is being honored for his skill in preventing a deadly head-on collision while transporting methanol.

A light rain was coming down as Kirkland was traveling eastbound on U.S. Highway 90 around 2 a.m. in late September 2020 between Pensacola, Florida, and Pace, Florida, hauling methanol. While driving across a bridge, only one of the two eastbound lanes was operable because of Hurricane Sally, which had washed out the other lane.

Morgan Kirkland
Morgan Kirkland

“There was usually a DOT person standing there, monitoring the sides of the road so that no one would use them,” shared Kirkland. He noticed a set of lights in front of him, but the rain was distorting them. At first, he thought it was a Florida Department of Transportation employee on the side of the road.

“Before I knew it, the lights swerved, and I realized it was actually a car on the wrong side of the road coming at me full speed. I couldn’t tell exactly where he was until the last few seconds,” he recalled.

Kirkland had nowhere to go, and had a line of cars behind him. “I knew that if I moved to the side of the road, those behind me would have been killed. They wouldn’t have known what was coming,” Kirkland said, adding that all he could do was slow down and get everyone to move over.

“I was able to get a third of my rig into the bad lane, but unfortunately, it resulted in me pinning a vehicle between the bridge wall and the back end of my highly explosive trailer,” he added.

Kirkland couldn’t completely avoid a collision. The oncoming vehicle, a Jeep, hit his trailer. “It ripped the entire axle out from under my trailer and just missed my tractor,” he said. “It scraped along the side of the tank and took out the rear end of the trailer.”

Kirkland carefully got out and approached the Jeep. The driver was conscious. Kirkland told him he was hauling methanol, which was very volatile and instructed him not to open his door, as it could create a spark. Meanwhile, Kirkland said, help arrived quickly and everyone was immediately evacuated. The driver of the oncoming vehicle was cited for DUI and driving the wrong direction on the roadway.

“My worst fear almost came true, that I would die in this truck,” said Kirkland. “What I do for a living scares me to death. I’ve got six beautiful children ranging from 5 to 21 years old. I’ve got a loving wife. I thank God for the speedy recovery of the vehicle and emergency management getting there so quickly.”

CHRISTOPHER LLOYD

Christopher Lloyd, who lives in Forest, Mississippi, and drives for Airline Transportation Specialists of St. Paul, Minnesota, is being honored for stopping at the scene to rescue two motorists after their car slammed into a utility pole and erupted in flames.

It was 3 a.m. one morning in late November 2020, and Lloyd was driving along a surface street on his way to the FedEx hub in Nashville when he came upon a single-vehicle crash. A car had struck a galvanized power pole at a high rate of speed. When Lloyd arrived moments later, the car’s engine compartment was completely engulfed in flames.

Christopher Lloyd
Christopher Lloyd

“There were other vehicles pulling up and watching, taking pictures, but not getting out to help,” Lloyd shared. Without a moment to spare, he safely pulled over and called 911, then grabbed his fire extinguisher and jumped out of his cab.

“I couldn’t get the flames out completely,” he recalled, adding that he tried the car’s doors but found them locked. “I ran back to the truck for a winch bar and my 10-pound hazmat extinguisher to finish putting the fire out and to bust out the windows.”

The car’s cabin was filled with smoke. Other people now stopped to help. Lloyd found the female driver pinned behind the wheel.

“She was unresponsive, but breathing,” he said. “The male passenger ended up in the back seat and was in pretty bad shape. I checked and found a pulse, and he was breathing.” He directed another person to hold the man’s neck still and not to move him. Lloyd said that since the fire was extinguished, that was the safest thing to do until emergency responders could arrive.

The driver and passenger were both in critical condition and were transported for medical care. Lloyd later learned that he was the only one who called 911. A police officer told him the pair would have burned alive if it were not for him.

“That wasn’t my normal run that night,” said Lloyd. “The driver that usually takes that run had broken down. 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 at that precise moment in time to hopefully save their lives.” He hasn’t been able to get an update on their condition but said “I hope the best for them.”

Lloyd shared that he became a volunteer firefighter at the age of 16 and went to a firefighting academy. He later joined the U.S. Coast Guard. “The night of the fire, it all came flooding back …  how to manage a scene,” he said. “Just like it was yesterday.”

WILLIAM “BILL” McNAMEE

William “Bill” McNamee, who lives in Christopher, Illinois, and drives for Carbon Express of Wharton, New Jersey, is being honored for stopping to help a seriously injured girl after her family’s vehicle was involved in a head-on collision. This is the second time McNamee has been named a Highway Angel.

McNamee was traveling east on I-44 near Marshfield, Missouri, just before
5 p.m. on September 10, 2020, when he noticed traffic was slowing up ahead. 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. Other drivers had already stopped to help. Without hesitation, McNamee pulled over and rushed to the scene.

Bill McNamee
Bill McNamee

“Someone was getting a toddler in a car seat out of the backseat, and two people were pulling a uniformed officer out of the driver’s seat,” he recalled. Someone had laid a little girl on top of the collapsed cable barrier on the grass, but no one was tending to her, McNamee recalled. He ran over to the girl, who appeared to be around 7 years old, and began assessing her injuries. McNamee, a first responder with his local fire department, shared that she was severely wounded.

“She was unresponsive and was having trouble breathing,” he said. Someone handed him a small Army medic kit. He opened the girl’s shirt revealing chest injuries too massive to allow him to perform CPR.

“I was praying for her,” he said. “I was telling her to keep breathing.” Another person was with the girl’s father, an off-duty sheriff’s deputy, whom he later learned had been gravely injured. “He was calling out to his daughter that ‘Daddy’s here. Everything’s gonna be okay.’ I kept telling her she was going to be okay, that help was coming, and to listen for the sirens,” added McNamee.

Meanwhile, a nurse stopped to help. “She stabilized the girl’s neck, and we got her ready for emergency transport,” he shared with TCA.

McNamee is uncertain what happened to the other driver. “He just stayed in his vehicle. Apparently, he was traveling across the country.”

The other driver passed a breathalyzer and chemical test. He also was transported to the hospital. McNamee learned the off-duty deputy, just 26 years old, who had also sustained massive chest trauma, did not survive. He added that the family was extricated from the car because those first on the scene saw smoke and were worried about a fire. However, the “smoke” was dust from the airbags.

“They were everyday citizens (trying to do the right thing),” McNamee said, noting that he’s proud of the four other truck drivers and the nurse who stopped to help the family.

“I don’t know who they were but trucking still has some knights of the road,” he said. The young girl was flown to a children’s hospital with several serious injuries requiring surgery. He learned she is home now and has begun attending school. The little boy sustained minor injuries.

KLOE MYERS AND JOHN DOWDY

Team drivers Kloe Myers and John Dowdy, both of Thomaston, Georgia, who drive for Hirschbach of Dubuque, Iowa, are being honored for stopping to help motorists whose vehicle caught fire.

It was March 16, 2020, and Myers was behind the wheel and her partner, Dowdy, was in the sleeper. She had just passed through a weigh station off Interstate 75 outside Atlanta when she saw people in distress on the side of the road, with the bed of their pickup on fire.

Kloe Myers and John Dowdy
Kloe Myers and John Dowdy

“There were two males and a female,” recalled Myers, “and only one person had stopped to help.” Without hesitation, she knew she had to help them. She safely pulled over and maneuvered her truck to force traffic around the scene. She awakened Dowdy and grabbed the fire extinguisher as he scurried to get dressed. Myers was able to quickly extinguish the flames as Dowdy helped the others pull boxes and bags of smoldering items out of the pickup bed.

“We were trying to prevent the fire from spreading to the car they were towing,” she added. Dowdy ran to their truck and handed off gallon jugs of water they were carrying. The group used them to douse everything and stomped out smoldering embers. “I ruined a pair of shoes, but it was worth it,” said Myers.

The driving team learned the three motorists were in the process of moving. “We were able to prevent damage to the car, but they were pretty upset that they lost everything they were moving, mostly personal items and all their kids’ toys, but they thanked us for stopping,” said Myers. “It all happened so fast.” First responders arrived after the fire was out.

Myers has been driving for less than two years. She and Dowdy have been driving together for over a year. They’ve come upon fires in the past and try to always be prepared.

“I try to help everyone I can when I see them broken down on the road,” she shared. “If I can’t stop, I feel bad. The side of the road isn’t always big enough for me to pull over.” Thankfully, Myers’ quick thinking and heroic actions that day helped prevent a catastrophe.

JOHN VESEY

John Vesey, who lives in Oregon, Illinois, and drives for Hirschbach Motor Lines of Dubuque, Iowa, is being honored for stopping to help a fellow driver who lost control of his truck during a fire and drove off the road.

It was December 19, 2020, and Vesey was westbound on U.S. 34, near Galesburg, Illinois, on his way to Monmouth to pick up a load. It was late in the morning when another truck driver passed him in the left lane of the four-lane divided highway.

John Vesey
John Vesey

“As he got out about a quarter-mile ahead of me, he started to lose control,” explained Vesey. “He went into the center median and then careened over to right side, went off in the ditch, and into a corn field.”

Vesey slowed down right away and pulled over. “Once he got to the corn field, the driver jumped out of the truck while it was still moving,” said Vesey. “I could see a flash of smoke and fire coming out of the cab.”

Vesey grabbed a fire extinguisher and ran across the field. “I yelled out to him to ask if he was OK, and he said he was.” Vesey continued running toward the truck and emptied his fire extinguisher into the cab. “I then went back to the driver to see if he was all right. He ended up having second-degree burns on his hands, and his hair was singed on the back.” Vesey then called 911. He went back and unloaded the driver’s fire extinguisher as well, to be sure everything was okay. The fire was contained to the center console area.

As Vesey helped the truck driver back across the field to the road, police, fire, and ambulance crews were arriving. “Another driver across the highway came over to help as well. The whole thing was maybe 10 minutes from start to finish,” he said. “Pretty good for a rural community.”

Vesey is trained as a paramedic and has a lot of emergency response experience. “I interned and spent the first year as a paramedic and EMT in Chicago and got my paramedic license. It was an awesome experience,” he shared. “I spent a year on the private ambulance side and then moved up to Northwest Illinois and was a paramedic there.”

He was also an Eagle Scout and is a U.S. Navy veteran. He’s been driving for eight years and also has office experience. “I choose to be on the road,” he said. “You get a little bit of the road in you, and you gotta scratch that itch. I love driving.”

BILL YOUNGER

Bill Younger, who lives in Sallisaw, Oklahoma, and drives for John Christner Trucking of Sapulpa, Oklahoma, is being honored for stopping to help a young woman after her vehicle struck a deer late at night.

It was around 11 p.m. on November 20, 2020, and Younger was driving along the Indian Nation Turnpike, south of Henryetta, Oklahoma, when a young woman passed him.

Bill Younger
Bill Younger

“The next thing I knew, a deer came up an embankment right in front of her and she hit it. She didn’t have a choice. It was so fast, and there was nowhere to go,” he shared.

Without a moment to spare, Younger safely pulled over, grabbed a flashlight, and hopped out of his cab. “It did a number (on her vehicle),” said Younger. “She was scared to death. I’ve never seen a car (end up) like this. It was all structural damage. She had a piece of plastic on the car, the structural cover, that went underneath the car. It was all ripped up,” he added. “She asked if she could drive it. I got in there and had to bust it all out from under the car. It was probably 4 to 5 feet wide and 5 or 6 feet long. The bumper was fastened to it.”

Younger took the license plate off for her and then got under the car to check the radiator and hoses for leaks. “She started it up and it ran real good,” he said.

He then did a safety check. “She had a lot of structural damage, but we tested everything to make sure she could safely drive it.” He then followed her about 40 miles to Henryetta. “She called me when she got to her destination safely.”

A friend of the young woman later called Younger’s employer, John Christener Trucking, to commend Younger for everything he did to help that night and said he represented the company well.

For their willingness to assist fellow drivers and motorists, TCA has presented each Highway Angel with a certificate, patch, a 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.

For over 30 years, the objective of The Trucker editorial team has been to produce content focused on truck drivers that is relevant, objective and engaging. After reading this article, feel free to leave a comment about this article or the topics covered in this article for the author or the other readers to enjoy. Let them know what you think! We always enjoy hearing from our readers.

COMMENT ON THIS ARTICLE

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here