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Trucker saluted for saving 6 victims from fiery crash

Zach Yeakley used Army National Guard experience

(Photo: TCA, Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

The Truckload Carriers Association has named truck driver Zach Yeakley, from Batesville, Arkansas, a Highway Angel for rescuing six victims from a chain-reaction crash.

On March 17, around 8:15 a.m. CT, Yeakley was hauling a full truckload of freight to West Memphis, Arkansas, when he heard on his CB radio about an accident up ahead. He was on Interstate 57 near Charleston, Missouri. He soon noticed smoke and a man wearing a safety vest flagging down drivers to alert them to the accident.

Accident on Interstate 57 in Charleston, Missouri, where trucker Zach Yeakley rescued six people from burning cars. (Photo: Zach Yeakley)

The scene was a fire-filled, chain-reaction crash in dense fog that involved more than 45 vehicles. Yeakley immediately pulled over to help.

“I went up there; they already had a couple people out,” Yeakley told the TCA. “Some people had some broken arms, one had a collapsed lung, a few broken ribs from the impact.”

Yeakley, a 15-year member of the Army National Guard, has been deployed twice — once to Iraq and once to Guatemala. He was trained as a combat lifesaver and quickly assessed the severity of the wreck. He surveyed the situation so he could tell the paramedics when they arrived. Fire was spreading through the crashed vehicles and tires were exploding all around them due to the fire.

“There was one guy trapped in his truck,” Yeakley added. “So me, a sheriff, a state trooper and a FedEx driver, we did what we could to get him out.”

They were able to pry the dashboard off of another trapped crash victim and rescue him from his vehicle. The flames, Yeakley said, were surrounding them. Once the crash victim was rescued from his truck, Yeakley and a sheriff ran back to the scene to try to rescue the driver of a car trapped between a truck and a trailer, also surrounded by flames.

“By the time we got there, the fire had gotten into the car,” Yeakley said. Unfortunately, it was too late to save that person.

Yeakley told FreightWaves that not being able to save more people still gets to him every now and then.

“The first few days after, I hardly slept any,” Yeakley added.

Although police reported at least six fatalities from the fiery crash, Yeakley helped save six victims from several vehicles. 

CFI driver and TCA Highway Angel award recipient Zach Yeakley. (Photo: CFI)

He started his truck driving career almost 10 years ago and has been driving for CFI for four years. Yeakley said he wouldn’t hesitate to jump back into a fire again to rescue people.

TCA gave Yeakley a certificate, patches, lapel pin and truck decals. TCA also gave CFI a letter acknowledging him as a Highway Angel.

“I wasn’t really expecting anything out of it, honestly,” Yeakley said about receiving the award. “My main thought was just getting them out.”

He hopes the people he helped are well and said he was glad to be there to help them out and make sure “they lived another day.”

Since the program’s inception in August 1997, nearly 1,300 professional truck drivers have been recognized as Highway Angels for the exemplary kindness, courtesy and courage they have displayed while on the job.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.