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Highway angels: 10 drivers recognized for heroic acts on the road

Ashley Coker

(Photo: John Weston, Challenger Motor Freight, 2017 Winner of Highway Angel of the Year, and Nashville recording artist Lindsay Lawler, the official spokesperson of the Highway Angel program)


The Truckload Carriers Association has been recognizing Highway Angels, or professional truck drivers who demonstrate compassion and courage on the road, since its 1997 inception. Recently, 10 standout drivers received the honor for acts of heroism performed in 2018.

“Their good deeds range from simple acts of kindness, such as fixing a flat tire, to heroic life-saving efforts, such as pulling someone from a burning vehicle and administering CPR,” according to the TCA website.

Highway Angels can be nominated by their employers, fellow drivers or the people they assisted. After the nomination comes in, the TCA verifies the details of the nomination before recognizing the driver.

Honored drivers receive a lapel pin, patch, decals and certificate of appreciation. Their employers also receive a certificate to display.

Highway Angels recognized in January include:

Matthew Kondrick — Sacramento, California

Kondrick, who used to drive for Melton Truck Lines, assisted vehicle occupants who were trapped in a crash during a heavy rain and wind storm last July.

“I saw that several trucks were starting to break up ahead of me,” Kondrick told the TCA. “And then I noticed that a tree had come down and crushed two cars in front of me.”

Kondrick, a former firefighter, shielded the damaged cars from oncoming traffic to prevent a file up. He also assisted and calmed the occupants, including a dog, by sharing soda and dog treats from his truck.

Laurie Clifford and Craig Sutherland — Ontario, Canada

Clifford and Sutherland both drive for Bison Transport. The team was recognized for assisting motorists after a crash and providing comfort for an elderly woman in her final moments.

The men stopped to help several people involved in a head-on collision. Sutherland comforted a woman trapped in one of the vehicles until emergency personnel arrived nearly an hour later.

Clifford was able to help two occupants of the other vehicle escape with non-life-threatening injuries, but an elderly woman in the back seat of one of the cars sustained serious injuries. He was able to move the woman to the side of the road and comfort her. Unfortunately, by the time paramedics arrived, she was already passing away.

“It was really hard on me, for quite some time,” Clifford told the TCA. “I go by that same spot every week and can still see that lady laying there. It was terrible. I’ve been driving for over 50 years and have seen a lot. You try to do what you can do, and that just comes naturally. But afterward…that’s when it hits you, what did I just do?”

Eddie Loflin — Thomasville, North Dakota

Loflin, who drives for Epes Transport System, was recognized for assisting and comforting a man thrown off a motorcycle on the highway last April.

He noticed vehicles moving around a motorcycle that was entering the highway. Eventually, he lost sight of the motorcycle. Moments later, he saw noticed the cyclist’s body thrown from the bike.

“It was chaotic and looked harsh,” Loflin told the TCA. “I remember thinking that he must be dead. Nobody else was stopping to help out at the time, and it was a miracle that no one ran him over.”

Loflin parked his truck behind the man so he would not be hit by oncoming traffic, then called 911. While waiting for emergency personnel to arrive, he provided comfort to the man by reminding him he was not alone and help was on the way.

The cyclist ended up having several broken ribs, a broken arm, a broken ankle and a collapsed lung.

Mike Johnson — California, Missouri

Johnson drives for Ruan Transportation Management Systems, and he is being recognized for rescuing a small child found alone in a ditch las July.

Johnson caught something in a ditch up ahead in his headlights while traveling to pick up a load at about 4 a.m. one morning. As he approached, he noticed in was a small child, wearing nothing but a diaper and carrying an orange sippy cup. The child was scared and tried to run from Johnson, who eventually picked the child up and attempted to provide comfort while calling 911.

A single father himself, helping the child came naturally to Johnson. He said he hates to consider what would have happened to the child if he had not stopped.

“You’re always watching for deer, but that day, it just came down to seeing the movement and stopping to check it out,” Johnson told the TCA

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Denny Cattell of Altoona, Georgia

Cattell, who drives for Bennett International Group, was recognized for his willingness to stop and assist an elderly driver and her family on the highway.

The driver was traveling with her daughter and two great-granddaughters in an RV when they came across large truck tire tread in the roadway that they could not avoid. The tread removed the RV’s exhaust system, leaving the family, ranging from ages 2 to 85, stranded on the side of the road.

Cattell loaded the RV’s exhaust system on his truck and followed the family to a nearby shop, where he ensured the mechanic could fix it before going on his way.

Daniel Barnett of Reynoldsville, Pennsylvania

Barnett, a Barber Trucking driver, was recognized for helping a car crash victim while waiting for emergency personnel to arrive.

When Barnett approached the crash, he noticed people panicking, attempting to get one of the trapped drivers out of the vehicle and smoke poured out from under the hood. He parked his truck to block oncoming traffic before breaking the driver’s window and loaning someone a pocket knife to cut the seatbelt, freeing the driver.

He does not think he did anything particularly heroic.

“I would hope someone would do it if my wife or daughter were in that situation and not just drive by thinking someone else will do something,” Barnett told the TCA.

Keith Burgoon of Fort Smith, Arkansas

Burgoon, who drives for ABF Freight Systems, was recognized as a Highway Angel for saving a man from choking.

After a long day of driving last May, Burgoon decided to treat himself to a steak dinner at a Longhorn Steakhouse in Memphis, Tennessee. He was chatting with a man at the bar when the man stood up quickly. It became apparent the man was choking, and Burgoon promptly performed the Heimlich maneuver multiple times.

Burgoon was able to help dislodge the piece of steak from the man’s esophagus allowing him to breathe. He is a dive master and was required to know CPR, Heimlich maneuver and other life saving techniques for his certification.

“These life skills came in handy for sure that day,” he told the TCA. “I’m not a hero, I just helped a fellow citizen who needed it and am glad I happened to be the one sitting there.”

Wayne Plunkett of West Point, Mississippi

Plunkett drives for Ruan Transportation Management Systems. He is being recognized for rescuing a woman trapped in her vehicle following a crash last July.

Plunkett was driving down the highway when he saw a pickup truck cross multiple lanes and crash into a rail. The vehicle was smoking, so he grabbed his fire extinguisher and ran to the scene. He ended up using the extinguisher to free the driver–a woman in her 70s with health issues–from the vehicle.

Emergency personnel arrived a short time later.

Plunkett has logged over three million miles of safe driving and has been with Ruan for 20 years.

“They focus 110 percent on safety and keep us up to date on safety procedures,” he told the TCA. “It’s something you hope you never have to use, but if you do, you’re prepared. I’m glad I could help that day.”

Gary West of Riverview — New Brunswick, Canada

West used to drive for Terra Nova Transport, and he is being recognized for rescuing a fellow driver from a burning cab.

West stopped at a gas station to use the restroom in the early morning hours when he noticed flaming dripping from underneath one of the trucks parked near the fuel pumps. He ran to the truck and banged on the doors to wake the sleeping driver.

When the driver finally awakened, he looked disoriented, and West yelled at him to get out of the truck.

“Flames were now coming out from under the hood and lapping at the windshield,” West told the TCA. “Somehow we got the door open and I helped him down from the cab.”

West managed to get the man to safety and waited for help to arrive. He suspects the fire was likely due to some sort of mechanical failure.

“My wife and I have long believed that things happen for a reason,” he said. “If I hadn’t happened to look at just the right moment to see those little balls of fire underneath that truck…”

He doesn’t like to finish that sentence.

If you know of, witness or experience an exceptional act of kindness or courtesy by a professional truck driver, please complete the Highway Angel nomination form.

The FREIGHTWAVES TOP 500 For-Hire Carriers list includes Ruan (No. 32), Bennett International Group (No. 41) and Melton Truck Lines (No. 72).

Chris Henry

Chris Henry has spent his entire 20-year career in transportation. In 2014, he founded the online motor carrier benchmarking service StakUp. As a result of a partnership with the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) in 2015, StakUp was rebranded as inGauge and Henry became the program manager for the TCA Profitability Program (TPP), an exclusive benchmarking initiative that includes more than 230 motor carrier participants throughout North America. Since joining the program, participation in TPP has grown over 300%. In June 2019, StakUp was acquired by FreightWaves and Henry became its vice president of carrier profitability, in addition to his role with TPP. Henry earned an MBA from the University of Massachusetts and a bachelor of commerce degree from Nipissing University.