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Two truckers awarded for bravery during dangerous weather

  (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)
(Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Two truckers were recently recognized by the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) for their bravery and selflessness for helping stranded and injured drivers during separate winter storms earlier this year.

 Donald Wood. (Photo: Truckload Carriers Association)
Donald Wood. (Photo: Truckload Carriers Association)

Donald Wood, a professional truck driver for ABF Freight (NASDAQ: ARCB), has been named a Highway Angel by the Truckload Carriers Association (TCA). He was awarded for his willingness to help an elderly man whose vehicle went off the road during a blinding snowstorm.

In the morning hours of January 12, 2019, Wood was waiting out a blizzard in Liberal, Kansas, just off US-54. Many roads were closed and the temperature was hovering around 18°. Wood had pulled his truck into a motel parking lot, waiting for the weather to clear so he could head home to Albuquerque, nearly 350 miles away. As he waited, he happened to notice headlights in the snow around 100 yards in the distance, but they weren’t moving.

“I knew something was wrong,” said Wood in an April 25, 2019 article on TCA’s web site. He got out of his truck and trudged across the road, bracing himself against the high winds and blowing snow. He saw a small pickup truck with a camper trailer stuck in a snowdrift. Wood thought he was in a parking lot, but it turned out he was on a playground, next to a children’s slide. Inside the pickup truck was an elderly man and his dog.

“He was so happy to see me,” recalled Wood. “He said he didn’t know where he was and he was afraid he’d freeze to death out there.” The man told Wood he was headed to Kansas City when he got caught up in the storm. “I told him I’d stay with him and get him out.”

Wood found a broken shovel at the motel and spent a little more than an hour digging out the man’s truck from the impacted snow. He then had the elderly man move his vehicle to the motel parking lot and to go inside to warm up and wait out the storm. The man thanked Wood and offered to pay him for helping him out but Wood refused.

“It’s hard to see someone stuck in those kinds of conditions,” said Wood. “I just wanted to help him. As a truck driver, the people we meet along the way are all potential customers for the trucking industry. It’s important for us to show up as a positive role model and help where we can.”

The other rescue also happened in the Sunflower State when Christopher Lemaire, a professional truck driver for Revere Transportation of Akron, Ohio, helped two people after witnessing a vehicle lose control on icy roads and flip multiple times. He was named a Highway Angel, too.

 Christopher Lemaire (Photo: Truckload Carriers Association)
Christopher Lemaire (Photo: Truckload Carriers Association)

As a former highway patrol officer, Lemaire has seen the outcomes of many bad traffic accidents. On February 11, 2019 he witnessed one. He was on his way to New York to deliver a load, heading northbound on I-35 in Kansas. The air temperature had dropped drastically from 58° that afternoon to about 32° by 6:00 p.m. By that time, freezing rain had made the roads icy. As Lemaire drove north, he noticed that the headlights of a car in one of the southbound lanes were moving left and right.

“I knew he was in trouble,” Lemaire told the TCA on April 12, 2019. “He was skidding out of control.”

The car went airborne after hitting a culvert in the median. The car hit the ground at an angle, smashing the driver’s side window and rolling several times – five times, according to Lemaire. He watched, helplessly, as the driver was ejected. On the last rollover, the passenger was ejected.

Lemaire responded immediately, but the time it took him to safely slow down from highway speeds put him nearly a mile away from the accident. He grabbed his coat and ran back to the scene. When he arrived, the driver was standing up and trying to walk. His pants were badly torn and Lemaire could see he probably had a broken leg. Lemaire sat him down, then rushed over to the passenger. Another car arrived and Lemaire asked the driver to call 911 and stay with the injured driver.

Lemaire tried to calm the second man as he checked him for injuries. He stayed at the scene and helped as much as he could and also wrote a statement as a witness to the accident. “It weighed on me the next day,” said Lemaire. “I wondered if they were going to be okay. Sometimes when people are ejected like that, they suffer internal injuries that can be fatal.”

“Chris has been working with us for quite some time,” said Revere Transportation Fleet Manager Christina Applegate. “He is an exemplary model driver for our company and we feel he was very courageous for the actions he took that night.”

In addition to his background as a highway patrol officer, Lemaire has been a truck driver off and on since he was 21 years old.

For their willingness to assist under hazardous circumstances, TCA presented Wood and Lemaire each with a certificate, patch, lapel pin and truck decals earlier this month (April 2019). ABF Freight and Revere Transportation also received certificates acknowledging their drivers as Highway Angels. Since the program’s inception in August 1997, hundreds of drivers have been recognized as Highway Angels for the exemplary kindness, courtesy and courage they have displayed while on the job. EpicVue sponsors TCA’s Highway Angel program.

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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.