Professional truck drivers Bobby Bourne, Bobby Edney, Jeremiah Johnson, Richard Rubio, Kirk Shepherd, and Travis Smallwood have been named Highway Angels by the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) for 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 Sponsors, DriverFacts and Drivers Legal Plan.
Bourne, who lives in Tazewell, Virginia, and drives for Big G Express, is being recognized for waking a fellow driver when the driver’s truck erupted in flames.
It was 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning in early June, and Bourne decided to stop at the North 40 Truck Stop off Interstate 40 outside Holladay, Tennessee, to take a 30-minute break. He was cleaning his windshield when he heard a loud screaming noise.
“It sounded like a belt on an engine slipping and squealing,” shared Bourne. As he looked around, he saw that a reefer had burst into flames. Bourne jumped down from his truck and ran over. “I was afraid someone was sleeping inside the truck,” he shared. Without a moment to spare, Bourne started beating on the side of the sleeper berth as someone else ran over with a fire extinguisher. As Bourne beat on the cab, the driver looked out the window. “I yelled at him to get out of the truck,” said Bourne.
The man grabbed his pants and jumped out of the truck, leaving his phone and shoes behind. “There just was no time,” he shared with TCA. “The heat was unbelievable.” A moment later, a tire on the back axle blew. “It literally knocked me down on the ground. I said, ‘Oh Lord, have mercy.’ We all ran away from the truck as the flames began engulfing the back of the sleeper,” recalled Bourne.
Bourne had the presence of mind to take photos of the burning truck for the driver.
“I felt bad for him. He told me he was an owner-operator and lived near Harrisonburg, Virginia. I told him I would send the photos to his wife for insurance.”
Bourne gave the driver his phone so he could call his wife. Later, the two men shook hands and the driver hugged Bourne, thanking him for saving his life.
“I would do it again. He’s probably someone’s dad … someone’s granddad,” shared Bourne. “I hope someone would do the same for me. My biggest fear is being asleep in a truck and it catching fire and no one waking me up in time. At the end of the day, trucking is a
family, and we’re all out here trying to do a job. We’ve only got each other. I believe the good Lord put me in the right place at the right time.”
Edney, a professional truck driver with Carroll Fulmer Logistics Corporation of Groveland, Florida, is being recognized for helping an elderly motorist after he blew a tire and veered off road into a heavily wooded area.
On the afternoon of May 10, Edney was carrying a load down I-77 South in Refugio, Texas. He was traveling in the right lane and noticed a black Lexus sedan traveling to the left of him. As the driver of the sedan sped up to pass Edney, the motorist blew a tire and the car spun out of control. Edney said the driver must have hit his brakes, causing him to shoot across the highway in front of
Edney’s truck. Edney watched as the motorist slammed into a brick wall and then veered into the woods.
“I hit the shoulder and called 911,” recalled Edney. “I then went looking for the car but couldn’t see it in the woods. When I finally saw the car, I took a hammer and knocked the windows out.”
What seemed like hours later, emergency personnel arrived and used a chainsaw to cut trees from around the car, and then used the Jaws of Life to extract the driver. They put him on a stretcher and hurried him to the ambulance. Edney noticed the driver was an older man with a handicapped sticker on rear view mirror.
“If I wouldn’t have stopped, nobody would have known he was off in the woods. I saved a man’s life, is what I did,” Edney shared proudly. “Thank God he didn’t blow his tire beside me, because he would have rolled my truck as well, which was fully loaded with a delivery. And if I wouldn’t have been paying attention and slammed on my brakes in time, I would have gone over the top of the sedan. The good Lord was with both of us that day.”
Johnson, who lives in St. Albans, Vermont, and drives for Melton Truck Lines, is being recognized for coming to the rescue of a motorcyclist who lost control and skidded across the pavement trying to avoid a deer.
It was around midafternoon June 15, and Johnson was cruising along I-70 through Missouri with a load bound for the West Coast. There was a motorcycle about 900 yards ahead that disappeared as it went over a hill. “As I crested the hill, I saw him come to a screeching halt and slide across the pavement as a deer ran off into the grass on the right shoulder,” said Johnson. Without a moment to spare, the driver diverted traffic by pulling up behind where the motorcyclist was lying, turned on his four-way flashers, and jumped out to assist. A couple cars pulled over to shoulder.
“Another guy and I rushed over to the motorcyclist,” Johnson shared with TCA. Thankfully, the man was wearing a helmet. “He was trying to stand up, but I told him it was best not to get up. He was able to tell us his name, and the date, and where he worked, but he may have sustained a concussion.”
Johnson rushed back to his truck and grabbed his emergency first-aid kit.
“We did what we could to comfort him and keep him still, and we talked to him to help him maintain consciousness,” shared Johnson. A few minutes later someone else stopped to help. “She was either a nurse or a paramedic,” he recalled. “I held his head steady to stabilize his neck as she cut his clothes away to check for injuries.”
An ambulance arrived about 30 minutes later.
“By that time, he was really confused about what had happened and where he was,” said Johnson. He helped load the motorcyclist onto the stretcher and waited for the ambulance to leave. He’s hopeful the man didn’t sustain any serious injuries.
Rubio, who drives for Melton Truck Lines and lives in Victoria, Texas, is being recognized for freeing a fellow truck driver from his mangled tractor following a crash.
Rubio had just delivered a load to Houston and was southbound on Interstate 45 the morning of June 24. His wife, Barbara, happened to be riding with him, and he was looking forward to some home time. “It was around 9 a.m., and there was the usual morning traffic with everyone going about 55 mph,” shared Rubio. He was traveling a quarter mile behind another tractor trailer. “All of a sudden I see him make an abrupt right turn as he’s crossing a bridge. The only thing that kept him from going over the bridge was a concrete barrier,” he recalled. “He hit it so hard, it knocked a chunk of concrete off.” Another vehicle had cut in front of the tractor trailer. “He had to hard brake and turn the wheel. Imagine doing that at 50 miles an hour,” said Rubio. “The trailer was upright, but the tractor was twisted on its side.”
Rubio drove just ahead of the wreckage, put his four-ways on, and ran back to check on his fellow driver.
“The cab was half crushed, and I could see the driver in there. He was trying to get out,” Rubio said, noting that he could smell fuel. “My first thought is, ‘We have to get this driver outta here before it catches on fire.’ I told the driver I would get him out.”
Acting swiftly, Rubio ran back to his truck to grab his load bar.
“I told him to close his eyes — I was going to knock the windshield out,” he said.
Another driver stopped to help, and the two were able to pry out the windshield. “There was a lot of fuel leaking,” recalled Rubio, “but we were able to get him out. Luckily, it didn’t catch on fire.”
Rubio learned the driver was from Serbia. “I think we became lifelong friends after that,” he shared. “He calls me every now and then. He even invited me to visit him in Chicago. We’ve talked about the accident, and he told me that if he hadn’t turned the wheel hard to the right to avoid the other vehicle, he probably would have killed a family that day.”
Rubio said there were a lot of people stopping and shooting video on their phones, and then they got back in their vehicles and took off. “My reaction was that I had to help the poor guy,” he said.
The driver sustained numerous cuts to his head, arms, and legs, along with a broken arm. “I think about that day from time to time,” shared Rubio. “I’d stop to help anybody. What gets me is how in an instant, things can change right in front of you. You just have to stay focused and do the right thing.”
Shepherd, who lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and drives for Smith Transport, is being recognized for helping an erratic driver who crashed into a highway median.
Shepherd was traveling on I-76, near Knightstown, Indiana, on the afternoon of June 3, when he witnessed a car driving erratically. He watched as the car swerved back and forth across the road, which he said went on for three or four miles. Shepherd recalled thinking “What’s up with this dude?”
He called 911. “I was afraid he would cause a wreck and kill someone. I told the dispatcher there was a dude eastbound on I-76 and reported the mile marker,” noted Shepherd. “Then he sped up like a bullet out of a gun, leaving a cloud of dust along the median.” He could only watch as the driver hit the guidewires along the median.
“He tore four posts out of the ground, and that stopped him. His front bumper came off and the hood was crumpled. I stopped on the right shoulder, right across from where he wrecked,” said Shepherd.
Traffic slowed enough for him to run across the highway.
“Two other westbound guys stopped as well,” added Shepherd. He checked on the driver. “Because of the impact, I think he was in shock. I tried to get him out of the vehicle, but he wouldn’t take his left hand off the steering wheel. Flames and smoke started coming out of the side of the hood.”
Shepherd ran back to his truck to grab a fire extinguisher as the other two men pulled the driver to safety and sat him on the ground away from the vehicle. “When the patrol officers arrived, they took his vitals and checked his pupils,” he added. “He was high on something. A deputy hit him with Narcan and that brought him back.”
Looking back, Shepherd believes God was there that day. “It would have been just a short time before that driver collided with someone. Those guidewires stopped him from crossing to the other side,” said Shepherd.
Smallwood, from Penfield, New York, drives for J&R Schugel. He is being recognized for rushing to the aid of a driver whose truck was stopped on a set of railroad tracks following a collision.
Smallwood was near Coal City, Illinois, on a clear, sunny morning in January with a load bound for Georgia.
“As I went down a hill, I looked straight up and saw dust flying overhead,” he said. “I knew something had happened up ahead. I had a propane tanker behind me, so I got on the CB and advised that he slow down. I slowed to about 30 mph.”
As he approached the scene, Smallwood noticed a car on the right and someone lying on the ground. Off to the left, the cab of a grain hauler was in the ditch and the trailer was resting on a set of railroad tracks. “The way the truck was positioned, he was probably northbound, and the car was coming out of a side road. I think the truck maneuvered to try to avoid the car.”
Smallwood set his four-ways and brakes, jumped out, and ran over to check on the driver of the car. “He said he was hurting,” said Smallwood. He ran back to his truck and grabbed a new fleece blanket from the sleeper. “I covered him up and told him not to move. I needed to go check on the other driver. The cab of the truck was mangled, just a wreck,” he recalled. “Diesel was leaking from the fuel tank.”
He rapped on the window of the truck but couldn’t get a response from the driver. He carefully opened the door and saw the driver had a cut to the forehead and was bleeding badly. Smallwood helped him out of the truck. By this time, there was a line of cars behind the propane tanker. “There were nurses who stopped to help,” recalled Smallwood. They attended to the driver of the car as Smallwood walked the truck driver a safe distance away. Later, he learned a train was coming down the tracks, but had been stopped 20 minutes away.
For their willingness to assist fellow drivers and motorists, TCA has presented each newly awarded 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.