By Sandi Soendker
It was just before midnight, Aug. 25, 2005. Alabama veteran trucker Doug Crawford was headed north on Interstate 85, Atlanta-bound. Crawford described it as a clear night and said he was "rocking" along, sitting up there watching the flow of traffic. Rolling through Newnan, GA, about mile marker 51, the world inside his quiet cab was suddenly shattered by the sight of truck lights rocketing across the median about a quarter mile ahead of him.
"Truck lights went across the median like a bullet," he said. "I'll never forget it. And once that truck hit that southbound lane it was like somebody set off a bomb. This big explosion, 35-40 feet high, was something like I had never seen."
The explosion was two tractor-trailers colliding after a hit-and-run 18-wheeler knocked one big truck into another.
Crawford quickly gained on the catastrophe, dodging oncoming out-of-control traffic. He pulled off on the shoulder, first on the scene.
He threw on the four-ways, grabbed his fire bottle and scrambled across the median. He came upon a Roadway pup, ripped loose from the trailer.
"I went to be a helping hand, but when I got there, there was no help and the only hands were mine," said Crawford, who added that the only help that night was from the Lord.
"I went looking for the tractor and all I could find was the frame, the rear axle and the fuel tanks there pumping fuel . Looking further, I could see another truck down there burning, in the furthest ditch. I took off running."
Crawford called out and the response he heard from inside the burning Peterbilt pushed his adrenalin into high gear.
"The driver, he replied back to me," said Crawford, who said he never thought about charging full speed toward a burning truck. "I got down to the driver door and could see the driver. The window was up . I never tried to open the door; something told me to go behind the sleeper."
He popped the pin on his fire extinguisher and furiously beat the fire back. There was a hole in the sleeper.
"All I knew is, I had to get in there. The driver was alive and was hollering," said Crawford, who somehow got into the truck through that hole.
There he found Herman Langford, a driver from Leesburg, GA. Langford was injured, bleeding and covered with diesel fuel.
"As soon as I got to him," said Crawford, "the driver asked me what happened. I said, 'Another truck came across the median and hit you head-on.' "
Crawford remembers vividly what happened next.
"I said, 'Come on, we got to go.' He said, 'I don't know if I can.' I said, 'Yeah, we got to go.' I told him to grab me by my neck. I caught him by his arms and shoulders, he got around my neck.
"The Lord used me for a tool that night."
He has no doubt of that.
"I got that man out of that truck. Once I was able to grip him, we were gone. I got him to the side of the highway, I heard a whistling and looked back."
Crawford said the truck exploded in a fiery ball. He hovered down over Langford to keep the flying debris from hitting him.
Minutes later, paramedics arrived and life-flighted Langford from the scene.
"I turned to go back in, still hunting for the other driver. That's when the deputy sheriff said, 'Son, you done your good deed, don't go back in there . Let the firefighters do their job . go with me and let me help you get cleaned up.'
"He helped clean me up and kind of brought me back down to my old self . I had to stay and help make out reports and all . They found the other driver. You know, he didn't make it."
Crawford was silent for several seconds as he recalled the night of the wreck.
"It was a bad accident," he finally said.
Looking out for each other
Crawford said he did not hesitate that night to stop to help and as he ran to the scene, he doesn't remember even feeling his feet touch the ground. It's clear when you hear him tell the story - there was no way he could have ignored the flaming carnage and rolled on down the asphalt.
"When I started driving, if a driver had a breakdown on the side of the highway, it did not matter who you drove for, there were trucks stopping to help," he said. "It was like you were brothers out there."
Crawford said today's trucking is far different from those days, in the ways drivers act and react.
"I guess I come from the old school," said Crawford, who was raised on a large produce farm and spent his life around trucks. "I feel like my teachings is the best 'cause I'm not through learning yet."
His advice to others: Take one day at a time and look out for each other.
"If you make one mistake, tomorrow may never come, so why be in a hurry? Everybody needs to do what they can to look out for each other," he said. "We all need to stop and think about our fellow drivers."
Not necessarily just other truck drivers, Crawford said, but truckers should be looking out for all drivers out there on the highway.
"We truckers are the highway," said Crawford.
The survivor: Herman Langford
Herman Langford is the driver from Leesburg, GA, whose life Crawford saved that night. Langford, who has been a driver since 1972, spent 14 days in the hospital after the crash. Nine of those days were in the intensive care unit where he was kept sedated.
Details of the accident were sketchy in Langford's memory, so, he said, he got Crawford's name from police reports and called him. Crawford, along with Langford's boss at Sexton Farms, filled in the holes.
Herman Langford and his wife, Joyce, have since met with Doug Crawford and his wife, Wendy, several times over supper. Langford is recovering from his injuries and hasn't ruled out trucking again.
"I'm just not ready to go out again . It was close, real close," he said. "After Doug got me out of the truck, it blew sky high less than two minutes later."
Both Langford and Crawford deeply regret the death of the Roadway driver, Daryl Goode, who lived in Conyers, GA.
Editor's Note: Wesley McClure, 48, Mobile, AL, turned himself in to police in Conyers, GA, about four hours after the wreck.
He was initially charged with first-degree vehicular homicide, leaving the scene of an accident and following too closely.
The charges were later revised by the district attorney's office to serious injury by vehicle, reckless driving, first-degree vehicular homicide, and hit and run.
McClure pleaded guilty to the serious injury and vehicular homicide charges. He was sentenced to two concurrent sentences of five years' probation, and 90 to 120 days in a detention center.
Staff Reporter Mike Throop and Staff Writer Aaron Ladage contributed to this article.