Everybody Loves a Hero

May 2, 2013

A truck driver pulls a motorist from a burning car just in time before it explodes, another trucker rescues a woman from a gun-wielding assailant, yet another driver pulls and unconscious man from his car seconds before it's struck by a train.

These are just a few examples of heroic acts truck drivers perform on the highway on a regular basis, and a program that recognizes those often life-threatening deeds has become one of the industry's best public relations efforts.

The Goodyear Highway Hero Program honors truck drivers who often risk their lives in an effort to save others. The Goodyear Highway Hero Award celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2013.

A little known fact is that the Highway Hero Program was actually started in 1981 by industry trade publication Heavy Duty Trucking magazine. Then Editor-in-Chief Doug Condra came up with the driver recognition program in an effort to improve the industry's image with the general public.

Realizing the value of the program, Goodyear took it over after two years in order to take the pubic relations and recognition effort to the next level. Goodyear was able to garner national exposure for the program when they held the award ceremony at major events such as the Indianapolis 500. Winners were also given bigger prizes. The 30th Goodyear Highway Hero Award winner received a special Highway Hero ring, a $5,000 cash prize and other prizes.

Each year, dozens of drivers are nominated to become the nation's Highway Hero, and news stories recounting their deeds are picked up by media outlets throughout the country.

The 2011 Highway Hero received even more than the usual media exposure recently when he was awarded The Carnegie Medal, given throughout the United States and Canada to those who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the lives of others.

Following is his story and those of other Highway Hero winners and nominees that are spread outside the industry to the public each year:

Michael F. Schiotis, the 2011 recipient of the Goodyear Highway Hero Award and The Carnegie Medal rescued Anna H. Trently from assault, Tobyhanna, PA, Nov. 1, 2011. Trently was being pursued by an armed man as she drove on an interstate highway at night. At one point, the man pulled his car beside hers and shot out the window of the front passenger door.

As Trently then attempted to make a U-turn on the highway, the man approached her car on foot, opened its driver's door, and pointed a gun at her. He attempted to shoot her, but when the gun malfunctioned, he struck her in the head with it.

Meanwhile, Schiotis, 44, truck driver, was approaching the scene, slowing his tractor-trailer to a stop for what he thought was a traffic accident. Bloodied, Trently ran toward his rig, followed by the assailant. She pounded on its driver's door and screamed for help. Schiotis jumped from the cab, grasped Trently, and positioned himself between her and the assailant.

The trucker kept the assailant at bay as Trently climbed into the cab. Turning his back to the assailant, Schiotis followed her. He drove from the scene and called police, who told him to respond to a truck stop five miles ahead. Schiotis did so, but on finding that the assailant was following in his vehicle, Schiotis continued on the highway, driving such as to block him. Police caught up to them seven miles beyond the truck stop and apprehended the assailant. Trently required hospitalization for treatment of her injuries, and she recovered.

Jason Harte of Rogers, Arkansas, was the most recent recipient of the Highway Hero honor, awarded at the Mid-America Trucking Show last March.

Harte, who works for Missoula, Montana-based Sammons Trucking, was driving down an interstate last July when he saw a speeding pickup truck push a minivan off the road and slam into another car, pushing it to the highway median.

Bystanders helped the car's driver while Harte approached the van. He saw a man and woman holding a six-month-old baby. They were frantically trying to get out of the vehicle. Harte also noticed that three other children were trapped inside the van. He dialed 911, helped the man, woman and baby out of the van, and then rescued the most accessible of the three other children.

Working with other bystanders, Harte a former paramedic opened the van's back hatch and performed first aid on the next child, then pulled her out through the door. He pulled apart seats and cut seatbelts to rescue the remaining child. Calling upon his EMT experience, Harte helped rescue crews tend to the victims' injuries which ranged from broken legs to internal bleeding until ambulances could whisk them away.

2010 winner, Tilden Curl, a truck driver from Olympia, Washington, was driving on Highway 99 near Tulare, Calif., when he saw a car leave the highway and come to a stop on a nearby set of railroad tracks. A train was rapidly approaching. An elderly woman exited the passenger side of the car and Tilden told her to move away from the tracks. He then noticed that the car's driver was unconscious and trapped inside. Tilden unfastened the man's seat belt and pulled him out of the car just seconds before the speeding train slammed into it.

2009 winner Junichi Shimizu a driver for Chipman Relocations, was driving westbound on Highway 12 near Fairfield, CA, and 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, saving the lives of three people involved in the fiery traffic accident, including one driver who was trapped in his burning vehicle.

2008 winner Jorge Orozco Sanchez, an owner-operator, 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 rig. As the vehicles stopped moving, a shaken 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 used his knowledge of child car seats he has two young children to rescue the two girls.

2007 winner Richard Filiczkowski, of Bountiful, Utah a driver with C.R. England saved an 8-year-old girl from a car sinking in a pond near the interstate. Janet Filiczkowski was driving the C.R. England rig along a quiet stretch of Interstate 90 about 100 miles west of Sioux Falls when she saw a car cross four lanes of traffic and careen into a pond. She yelled for her husband, who was resting in the sleeper compartment. Filiczkowski quickly dressed, grabbed his shoes and ran a quarter-mile to the scene to save the girl.

Some truckers even lose their lives in their efforts: 2013 Highway Hero nominee Christopher Burgess, an independent truck driver from Ravenna, Ohio is one of them. After picking up 15 tons of sand, Burgess was driving a truck down a steep hill in Akron, Ohio, when its brakes failed. Fighting to keep the truck under control, Burgess waved his arms and honked the vehicle's horn while it sped down the hill toward a busy intersection at an estimated 50 miles per hour. He maneuvered the truck between two buildings full of people and steered toward bushes and trees at the rear of the property, behind which was a riverbank. The truck hit a tree and dropped into the river below. Burgess died in the accident.

These are just a few of the many stories that are given a national media platform as a result of the Highway Hero Program. Stories are generated when truckers are nominated for the program and when the winners are announced.

The program honors professional truck drivers who put themselves in harm's way to help others and gives a great impression of truck drivers and the industry to those outside it.

If you know a Highway Hero, be sure to nominate him/her by filling out the Highway Hero nomination form at http://www.goodyeartrucktires.com/newsroom/highway-heroes/hero-overview.aspx

Nominations also can be mailed to the Goodyear Highway Hero Award Headquarters; Dept. 798A; 1144 E. Market St., Akron, OH 44316 or by calling (330) 796-8183.


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