Goodyear Names Finalists for 26th Highway Hero Award

March 3, 2009

AKRON, Ohio, March 3, 2009 – As finalists for the 26th annual Goodyear North America Highway Hero Award, a team of two professional truck drivers from Illinois reacted to a collision with an out-of-control van by pulling the unconscious driver to safety after the crash; a California truck driver noticed a glow off the freeway and followed it to find a car in flames and a driver trapped inside; a Tennessee truck driver made a quick decision to pull a man from a disabled car seconds before it was fully engulfed in flames; and a Colorado driver hauling grain was shocked when his truck was hit head-on in a fiery collision, but then had the presence of mind to save two young lives.

Nikolay Zashev, of Franklin Park, IL; Tihomir Tanev, of Schiller Park, IL; Willie Wilson, of Santa Clara, CA; Roy Hackett, of Nashville, TN; and Jorge Orozco Sanchez, of Firestone, CO; were named finalists today for trucking’s most prestigious award for heroism.

“These five individuals represent the thousands of professional truck drivers that work every day across North America. Each year, this program offers an opportunity for recognition of those who put their lives on the line to help others,” said Joseph Copeland, vice president for commercial tire systems for The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company.

“This year, our honored truck drivers all risked their lives to rescue strangers who were in peril due to fiery accidents.  In one case, two young girls were rescued, but their mother perished, and our thoughts and prayers go out to this family.  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,” Copeland said.

For the 2008 award, the finalists are:

Roy Hackett, of Nashville, TN, a truck driver for United Parcel Service (UPS). Driving on I-75 near Chattanooga on April 22, 2008, Hackett heard over his CB radio that a car up ahead was on fire. As he approached the disabled car that was pulled over on the highway shoulder, he grabbed his truck’s fire extinguisher and ran to the car.  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.  Flames and smoke were beginning to pour from the car.

With another driver appearing at this time, Hackett was able to drag the man out of the car, then pull him 50-60 yards away to sit upon a guardrail.  Soon, the car was burned to a skeleton, displaying the danger that the driver faced if he had not received quick assistance from Hackett. Within 5-10 minutes, police, fire and ambulance services arrived.  Hackett stayed with the driver until emergency personnel took care of him.

The rescued driver wrote to UPS: “I believe the Lord put Roy’s brown truck behind me so he could save me. 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, and based in the Chicago area.  They are co-finalists for the award.  These team drivers were en-route to Sacramento, CA on the evening of Jan. 21, 2008, when a large van spun out of control in the eastbound lanes of I-80 in Iowa, crossed the median and headed for their westbound rig.  The tractor-trailer was struck on the left side, 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, was remarkably able to keep the tractor and set of double-trailers upright, along with avoiding contact with any other vehicles.

The truck drivers were shaken up, but not injured.  They noticed the van that had struck their truck was now resting in the westbound lanes and on fire. Zashev and Tanev exited their truck and rushed to the damaged van to check on the driver.  There, they found a man, unconscious and bleeding, and were able to pull him out of the van and into the snow.  Soon, the van was engulfed in flames.  Emergency personnel arrived on the scene, thanked the truck drivers for their help and cared for the injured driver.

Jorge Orozco Sanchez, of Firestone, CO, 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 the tractor-trailer rig.  After impact, the truck pushed the SUV backward down the road for about 200 feet.  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.

One of the youngsters was extracted quickly, but the fire was getting bigger and the smoke was so thick he had trouble seeing into the vehicle.  He was finally able to remove the other girl, then the truck’s saddle fuel tanks ruptured and exploded, creating an inferno.  The 27-year-old mother died in the crash.

Orozco Sanchez sustained burns on his arms from the rescue and was taken to a nearby hospital.  The fire reduced the cab and the SUV to rubble, along with burning the side of a nearby building.  Although the driver perished, Orozco Sanchez was called a hero for his rescue of the two young girls.

Willie Wilson, of Santa Clara, CA, a driver for UPS, was traveling on Nov. 7, 2008 along I-80 in Yolo County, California, when he noticed a glow off of the freeway.  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.

The driver was initially unconscious, but as Wilson began pulling him from the burning vehicle, he started to yell for help.  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.  Emergency personnel fought the flames while others relieved Wilson of his duties and began on-site medical care for the man.  Wilson’s keen observation of the fire, coupled with quick action to extinguish enough of the blaze to pull the injured driver to safety, was a true act of heroism.

Journalists from the trucking industry are now voting on the finalists, who will be featured March 19 at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky.  One driver will be named the 2008 Goodyear North America Highway Hero at the Truck Writers of North America Annual Banquet and receive a $10,000 U.S. Savings Bond, a plaque and a specially designed ring; the other finalists will receive a $5,000 U.S. Savings Bond and plaque.

Founded by Goodyear in 1983, the Highway Hero program recognizes professional truck drivers and the often unnoticed, life-saving rescues and roadside assistance they provide as their jobs take them across North America.

For more on the program, go to http://www.goodyear.com/truck/news/hero.html.