Hands of a savior

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I think other drivers would have done exactly the same thing I did.” –Jorge Orozco Sanchez, owner-operator, recipient of the 26th Goodyear North American Highway Hero Award for pulling two little girls out of burning car moments before it exploded

When you meet Jorge Orozco Sanchez, it’s hard not to notice his hands. For it’s not every day you meet someone willing to put their hands into a fiery car; it’s not every day that you see hands that served as the instruments of salvation for two young lives.

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Sanchez (at right) doesn’t see it that way, of course. A quiet man of average height with a very lean build, he’s extremely uncomfortable with the label “hero,” believing that what he did any truck drivers with a pair of hands like his – hardened and worn from years spent loading and unloading freight from his trailer, followed by countless hours gripping the steering wheel and gear shifter of a big rig tight during tense moments on the road – would have done the very same thing.

We covered Sanchez’s exploits in a previous news story on our web site, and the Denver Post's story on his exploits is truly moving, but it’s worth repeating them in this space again – if only to illustrate that great things are possible from anyone at any time if they are willing to act.

Hauling grain on Oct. 28 last year on Highway 392 north of Greeley, CO, Sanchez got hit head on by a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) that crossed the median. After impact, his rig pushed the SUV backward down the road for about 200 feet. “I sat there for a moment and didn’t know if I was alive or dead,” he told me.

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Despite being dazed by the crash, Sanchez (here with Jim Park, a Canadian freelance trucking reporter and former owner-operator himself) quickly jumped from his cab and went to the other SUV. There, with flames already beginning to surround him, he saw two girls strapped into their car seats and crying, with their mother lying motionless in the driver’s seat. Working with a passer-by who used a fire extinguisher to fight back the flames, Sanchez rescued the two girls.

However, before he could get their 27-year old unconscious mother extracted, the SUV’s fuel tanks ruptured and exploded, creating an inferno. She died in the blaze and Sanchez sustained burns on his arms from the rescue and was taken to a nearby hospital. The fire reduced the SUV to nothing but smoking, twisted steel – producing flames so hot they damaged the side of a nearby building.

[Sanchez related the details of his experience on Sirius XM’s “The Lockridge Report” program during the Mid America Trucking Show. You can see some of that interview below.]

That’s why Sanchez tends to push back when people call him a hero – he couldn’t save the mother. He still finds it difficult to recount the incident to reporters and others for that reason, though no doubt the fiery crash plays over and over in his mind constantly. For after you speak with him for a while, you know he’s the type of person that wonders what he could have done differently to prevent this tragedy; how he might have gotten the mother out.

It’s also interesting to note that Sanchez’s heroism almost disappeared from public view, were it not for the police officers that responded to the incident. They cleared him of any fault in the accident and then, learning of Goodyear’s Highway Hero program, nominated him for the award. It’s very appropriate, though, that it happened this way – that police officers, people who put their lives at risk every day on the job, would recognize and hope to reward similar bravery in other highway brethren.

But, oh, the cost. Sanchez’s truck was totaled in the crash, so now he finds himself severed from his livelihood as insurance providers wrangle over the numbers – numbers that never seem to factor in the worth of two little human lives saved, nor of personal bravery, nor the agony of wondering, over and over again, that if those hands could’ve been a little bit faster, they might have saved one more.

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