Professional truck drivers Paul Annen, Trinidad Arebalo, Ray Dooley, Logan Hughes, and Robert Thompson have been named Highway Angels by the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) for their acts of heroism while on the road.
Paul Annen, who lives in Tampa, Florida, and drives for Melton Truck Lines of Tulsa, Oklahoma, is being honored for springing into action to fight a truck fire he encountered while making a fuel stop.
Annen and his student driver were traveling east on Interstate 40 near Palestine, Arkansas. They had pulled into a Love’s Travel Stop to refuel when they saw a semitruck on fire.
“There was this plume of black smoke,” recalled Annen. “I drove over toward the truck and stopped a safe distance away. There were several people standing around, watching it burn.”
Annen grabbed a fire extinguisher and did what he could to help, aiming the fire extinguisher at the flames coming from under the truck around the differentials.
“After I emptied [the fire extinguisher], I backed away and someone handed me another extinguisher, telling me I looked like I knew what I was doing,” he said. In all, six fire extinguishers were used fighting the fire. Annen emptied three himself but was unable to completely douse the flames.
Annen was well equipped to assist in such a dangerous situation, having been a firefighter on aircraft carriers when he served in the U.S. Navy.
“Then the airbag blew and made everything worse,” he said. All he could do at that point was back away and wait for the fire department to arrive.
“We didn’t know what (the driver) was hauling or whether it would explode, but I believe our efforts prevented the fire from becoming significantly worse,” he shared.
Annen said the door to the cab was open, but the driver of the truck was nowhere to be found. After the fire department arrived, Annen returned to his truck.
“I was shaking a little bit with adrenaline,” he recalled.
Afterward, he reviewed the situation with his student driver and explained why all trucks are required to carry fire extinguishers. Annen says the thing to remember when using an extinguisher is PASS: “Pull the pin; Aim at the base of the fire; Squeeze the handle; and Sweep from side to side,” he explained.
Annen has been driving with Melton for nearly five years.
Trinidad Arebalo, who drives for Nationwide Rail Services of Burr Ridge, Illinois, and lives in Crete, Illinois, is being honored for rushing to the aid of a driver involved in a multiple-vehicle accident.
It was after 2 a.m. one very cold night in February. Arebalo was southbound on Interstate 55 outside Chicago when he came upon a multi-vehicle accident. A tractor-trailer had been cut off by another driver and hit a patch of black ice, causing the rig to jackknife. The driver of a sedan wasn’t able to avoid the tractor-trailer and slid underneath the chassis of the truck, causing the sedan to catch fire.
Arebalo pulled over as safely and quickly as he could and ran to help the driver of the car as other drivers checked on the truck driver.
Arebalo quickly discovered that the driver, a young woman, was trapped in her vehicle; her foot was caught.
“I knew I had to put the fire out, since I couldn’t get her out,” he shared with TCA.
He grabbed his fire extinguisher and was able to quickly put out the flames. Although the driver was conscious, Arebalo said she was somewhat incoherent.
“She was in shock, in disbelief,” he recalled.
As he assured her that help was on the way, she asked him to call her husband. Arebalo made the call and relayed what happened, and then handed the phone to the driver. As she was talking to her husband, another vehicle came along, lost control, and narrowly missed them as it too crashed into the truck’s chassis.
Arebalo waited on the scene with the driver until first responders arrived, and he was able to tell the driver’s husband which hospital she was being taken to.
Arebalo has been driving for five years, three of which have been with Nationwide Rail Services.
Ray Dooley, who lives in Weatherford, Texas, and drives for Hirschbach Motor Lines of Dubuque, Illinois, is being honored for stopping to help a woman who was abandoned in a remote area in the middle of the night.
It was just after midnight May 1, and he was eastbound on Interstate 90 along a quiet stretch of road about 25 miles outside of Billings, Montana.
“It was a pitch-dark night out there, no moon,” he shared. “There was no one else out there, and I had my brights on.”
Then he noticed something on the side of the road in the tall grass.
“I thought it was an animal, but then I saw a person’s hands and arms waving. I didn’t know if they were injured, male or female, but I knew they needed help,” he recalled.
However, as a former police officer, Dooley was also keenly aware the situation could be a set-up. He had heard stories about such things happening, especially out on remote roads at night.
It took Dooley about half a mile to come to a complete stop. He then called the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Department.
“I told them what I saw, gave the mile marker, and asked if a patrol unit could be dispatched to the location,” shared Dooley.
The dispatcher said she would stay on the phone with him. After turning on his four-ways, setting his battery-operated flares behind the truck, and grabbing his flashlight, he started walking down the road.
“I saw a woman, limping and staggering toward me,” he recalled. “When I met up with her, she told me she was from the Crow Indian Nation about 35 miles to the east. I asked if she was hurt, and she said yes but (that she) didn’t need an ambulance.”
The woman told Dooley she had been with someone, but they had pulled over, pushed her out of the car, and left her on the side of the highway.
“It was only about 40 degrees out and she was in a T-shirt and pants,” he remembered.
He told her he was a former police officer and an EMT and would keep her safe. The woman thanked him for stopping, adding that her father was a police officer with the Crow Tribe, and she wished he could meet Dooley because he was so nice to her. He offered her a Pop-Tart and some water, and stayed with the young woman until a sheriff’s deputy arrived about 30 minutes later.
In the mid-1970s, Dooley drove trucks for Kroger Grocery Stores before he decided to move into law enforcement. He became an EMT and a member of the SWAT team for a police department outside Fort Worth, Texas.
“My father and grandfather were police officers in Fort Worth,” he said. “I’d wanted to do that since I was a kid.”
He later worked as a civilian for the Saginaw police department, training the police department’s Citizen’s Academy. Later, Dooley decided he wanted to drive again and tour the rest of America.
“I’ve always enjoyed driving trucks,” he explained. “I’ve been out here almost three years. We have a great community of truck drivers.”
Dooley also finds time to volunteer and coaches a Special Olympics bowling team.
“We won first place gold last year,” he shared with a smile in his voice.
Logan Hughes, who lives in Jacksonville, North Carolina, is being honored for stopping to help at the scene of an accident after a driver crashed into a highway median.
Hughes had just merged onto Interstate 40 outside Knoxville, Tennessee, on his way to Nashville, Tennessee, early one evening in late April.
“I’m cruising in the middle right lane when a car comes up on the entrance ramp, hits the guardrail, and goes through three pillars,” he shared with TCA. “Then, when he hit the fourth, the car went up on its nose, fell on its right side, and then landed on its tires.”
Hughes quickly moved to the shoulder and put on his flashers.
“I grabbed my first-aid kit and fire extinguisher and ran back toward the action,” he recalled, adding that he found two other vehicles that had sustained damage because of flying debris from the car.
“It looked like the drive axle came flying and popped their tires,” he added. After checking on the drivers he hurried over to the first vehicle.
“The driver was rubbing his head and groaning,” he added. “He was trying to get out of the car. I told him not to move — not his head, not his big toe, or anything — because he could have a serious spinal injury and not even know it.”
The driver told Hughes he had looked down at his phone for a minute, and before he knew it, he had hit the metal guardrail. Hughes stayed with the driver to keep him calm until first responders arrived on the scene just a few minutes later.
Hughes credits his mother for teaching him first aid.
“My mother was an ER nurse for over 20 years and was adamant about teaching me and my brothers so that if there was an accident, we would know what to do,” he said. “I’ve seen a lot of messed-up stuff out here, and I’m glad I can do something to make the roads a little safer.”
Hughes has been driving for two years.
“I’ve wanted to be a truck driver since I was knee-high to a grasshopper,” he said with a laugh. “I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. Me and my dog, Chance, are out here lovin’ every minute of it.”
Robert Thompson, who lives in Tombstone, Arizona, and drives for Clark Transfer, Inc., is being honored for stopping at the scene of a multiple-vehicle accident and securing the area until first responders arrived.
Thompson knows all too well that a moment’s distraction can have serious repercussions. One evening in early April, Thompson was traveling through Memphis, Tennessee, on U.S. 78 with a load bound for Georgia. He was stopped at a red light, in the right lane, when a car came up on his left and drove right into the intersection.
“He didn’t even hit the brakes before he hit two other vehicles, pushing one into a third vehicle,” recalled Thompson. “He caused a four-vehicle accident across three lanes of traffic.”
Once it was safe to do so, Thompson carefully maneuvered his tractor-trailer across three lanes of traffic to block oncoming vehicles. He turned on his strobe lights; then jumped out and went to check on the other drivers. Luckily, no one was injured.
“The driver that caused the accident was dazed and confused,” said Thompson. “Apparently, he had reached down to get something and wasn’t paying attention to traffic in front of him.”
Thompson ran back to his truck and pulled out traffic cones to help divert traffic around the scene as he called 911. Traffic was still fairly heavy at that time of the evening and had begun to back up quickly. Thankfully, a Memphis police officer was just a couple blocks away and arrived on the scene in a matter of minutes.
“I’ve been (driving) over the road for 13 years and have come across many accidents,” he said. “This (one) is a lesson in not driving distracted, because you never know what you could quite literally run into.”
One of the officers that night repeatedly thanked Thompson for securing the accident scene and helping prevent a much worse situation.
For their willingness to assist fellow drivers and motorists, TCA has presented each Highway Angel with a certificate, a patch, a lapel pin, and truck decals. Their employers have also received a certificate acknowledging their driver as a Highway Angels.
To nominate a driver, or to meet additional recipients, visit highwayangel.org.