Goodyear finalists are all Highway Heroes

The four finalists for Goodyear North America’s Highway Hero Award have been announced. While any one of the four could win the 27th annual award, they are all heroes in my book.

George Lantzy, of Turtle Creek, Pa.; Jesse Lee Seal, of Alma, Ark.; Stephen Page, of Gloucester, Mass.; and Junichi Shimizu, of Gladstone, Ore.; will vie for the honor, which will be announced the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville. The winning driver will receive a $10,000 U.S. Savings Bond, a plaque and a ring. The other finalists will receive a $5,000 U.S. Savings Bond and plaque.

“These four individuals represent the thousands of professional truck drivers who work every day across North America. Each year, this program offers an opportunity for recognition of those who put their lives on the line to help others,” said Joseph Copeland, vp for commercial tire systems for The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company.

Each of the drivers risked their lives to save a stranger’s – and did it without giving it a second thought. Last year’s winner, Colorado truck driver Jorge Orozco Sanchez , saved two young girls after a crash in October 2008. Previous winners have pulled families from burning vehicles, ponds, and more.

Below is a brief description of the incidents (supplied by Goodyear) for which each driver for the 2009 award has been nominated.

George Lantzy, of Turtle Creek, Pa., a driver for Fubar Trucking. As Lantzy drove his tractor-trailer on Route 22 outside of Weirton, W.V., on March 12, 2009, he noticed a car along the highway’s shoulder that was slowly drifting into traffic. As he drove closer, he saw an elderly woman slumped over the steering wheel, and realized something was drastically wrong. The car was headed toward a potential accident on the busy highway, so Lantzy made a snap decision to get involved. He maneuvered his rig alongside the car, then drove in front to allow the car to contact the rear of his trailer, thus creating an impromptu roadblock and easing the woman’s car away from danger. Once he was able to force the out-of-control car to a standstill, police and paramedics arrived. The driver, who had suffered a heart attack, was transported to a nearby hospital where she made a full recovery following surgery.

Stephen Page, of Gloucester, Mass., a driver for Pit Bull Trucking. On July 14, 2009, Page was driving along U.S. Interstate 80 near Clearfield, Pa., when he spotted a fire in the woods alongside the roadway. He and another driver ran into the woods to find the burning wreckage of a double-unit rig that gone nearly 1,500 feet off the highway. Upon reaching the driver of the truck, he first believed the driver had not survived, but then realized he had lost consciousness. The cab was getting hotter by the second, and Page and the other driver struggled to remove the victim. Finally, with the help of two more truckers who had stopped, the injured driver was removed before the tractor and trailer were completely destroyed by fire. Page stayed with the injured driver, talking with him as he drifted in and out of consciousness. With severe burns, the man was eventually flown to a hospital. He has a long road to recovery, but is alive, thanks to the lifesaving efforts of Page and others.

Jesse Lee Seal, of Alma, Ark., a driver for PDP Unlimited. Early in the morning of Oct. 7, 2009, Seal was driving his 18-wheeler southbound on U.S. Interstate 530 near Little Rock, Ark., when another truck ahead of him abruptly swerved left, went across the median and the northbound lanes, eventually coming to rest on an opposite embankment. As this happened, the truck lost a fuel tank, which caught fire. Seal quickly stopped his truck, grabbed his fire extinguisher and ran across the lanes to provide assistance. As he passed by, he extinguished the burning fuel tank, then hurried to the disabled truck. Once there, he was able to open the hot door, put out the fire that was burning the driver’s legs, and cut the seat belt to remove the injured driver.

Junichi Shimizu, of Gladstone, Ore., a driver for Chipman Relocations. As he drove westbound on Highway 12 near Fairfield, Calif., on Feb. 20, 2009, Shimizu witnessed a vehicle cross the centerline of the road and strike an automobile in front of his truck. The auto spun into the ditch, and the other vehicle then hit his tractor twice before bursting into flames. Upon coming to a stop, Shimizu called for assistance and then headed to the vehicle that was in flames. Unable to open the driver’s side door due to the damage, he told the driver to protect his face and he punched out the glass in order to pull the driver free of the car. Gaining help from another motorist, he was able to free the driver’s foot, which was wedged under the dashboard, then carry the driver to safety. Running to the other car, he quickly assessed that the driver was deceased, but there were two injured passengers inside. The passengers were removed, and Shimizu retrieved his fire extinguisher to keep the blaze under control until the local fire department arrived. The three rescued individuals had extensive injuries, but all survived.

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