Heroes one and all

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Time after time, truck drivers have emerged as bona fide heroes. When motorists have needed help, they've stopped and put themselves in harm’s way.” –Joseph Copeland, vice president for commercial tire systems for The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company

You can’t read about the heroism displayed by the five finalists for the 26th annual Goodyear North America Highway Hero Award and not be blown away. These are five truck drivers that put their own lives at risk to save others from horrendous situations without the slightest hesitation.

Roy Hackett, a truck driver for United Parcel Service (UPS) out of Nashville, TN, pulled a man out of a disabled car mere seconds before the vehicle was engulfed in flames. Driving on I-75 near Chattanooga on April 22 last year, Hackett heard over his CB radio that a car up ahead was on fire. The only occupant was a man who was wedged between the steering wheel and the seat, announcing to Hackett that he recently had hip surgery and was not able to move well on his own. With the help of another Hackett was able to get the man out of the car and pulled him 50-60 yards away – where they watched the car burn down to a fiery skeleton of melted plastic and steel. "I believe the Lord put Roy's brown truck behind me so he could save me,” the rescued driver wrote to UPS. “My hip was so bad after the surgery, I would not have gotten out by myself."

Nikolay Zashev, of Franklin Park, IL, and Tihomir Tanev, of Schiller Park, IL, are contract drivers for FedEx Ground out of Chicago area and witnessed a van spin out of a control on I-80 in Iowa while on a run to Sacramento, CA, back on Jan. 21 last year. The van crossed the median and hit their tractor-trailer, turning it and pushing it into the median, through the eastbound lanes and into a ditch on the other side. Zashev, driving at the time, kept the tractor and his set of double-trailers upright and didn’t hit anyone else. Though shaken up, both drivers noticed the van had caught fire and rushed over to help. They found the van’s driver unconscious and bleeding, but were able to pull him out of the van and into the snow before the vehicle became totally engulfed in flames.

Owner-operator Jorge Orozco Sanchez, of Firestone, CO, was hauling grain on Oct. 28, 2008, on Highway 392, north of Greeley, CO, when an SUV suddenly crossed the center line and crashed head-on into his tractor-trailer. After impact, the truck pushed the SUV backward down the road for about 200 feet. After the vehicles stopped moving, Orozco Sanchez quickly jumped from his cab and went to the other vehicle. There, with flames already beginning to surround the vehicles, he saw two girls, strapped into their car seats and crying, and a woman up front who was not moving. Working with a passer-by who used a fire extinguisher to fight back the flames, Orozco Sanchez rescued the two girls, but 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.

Then there’s Willie Wilson, of Santa Clara, CA, another UPS driver, who noticed a glow off on the side of I-80 in Yolo County, CA, back on Nov. 7 last year. Unsure of origin of the fire, he stopped his truck and ran over with a fire extinguisher. He found a vehicle that appeared to have come off the freeway, rolled over and came to rest on its tires. The engine compartment was on fire, and he noticed there was still a driver inside. Wilson was able to drag the injured driver to the side of the nearby highway ramp as the Davis Fire Department arrived on the scene.

What more can you say about these five brave men? All of them equally deserve Goodyear’s Highway Hero, to my mind. Yet only one of these drivers gets the award – a $10,000 U.S. Savings Bond, a plaque and a specially designed ring, handed out at the upcoming Mid America Trucking Show. The other finalists receive a $5,000 U.S. Savings Bond and plaque in recognition of their deeds.

More importantly, though, their actions demonstrate yet again the unsung role truck drivers play on our highways. Not only do they deliver the goods we use every day of our lives, more often than not they are the first on the scene of a crash – and regularly step into the breach to save lives.

Gentlemen, regardless of who wins, we salute all of you.

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