Cover Story
2013: Year of the Hero Trucker
This year has been about more than just big-picture stories of national importance …

By Land Line staff

There’s certainly been no shortage of big news in the trucking industry this year. We’ve seen the rollout of new HOS rules, a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against Pilot Flying J for a purported fuel rebate scam, and even a gridlocked Congress managing to come together to unanimously approve a bill that requires the FMCSA to conduct its formal regulatory process before saddling CDL-holders with sleep apnea requirements.

There’s more going on within the industry than just continued debates about cross-border trucking, electronic monitoring devices, or confronting the economic realities of a post-recession America.

We here at Land Line would like to take this opportunity to share some of our favorite stories that may not ripple across the pond, but certainly made an impact on the lives of those involved. We’re spotlighting our favorite tales of heroism on the road.

January 9

Truckers create ‘rolling roadblock’ to rescue abducted toddler

Jim Lowe and his co-driver had just heard an Amber Alert issued for a 2-year-old boy, giving the description of the car and the license plate number, when they spotted the vehicle in the lane next to their truck on Interstate 24 in Marion County, Tenn.

“We just kind of eased up and got in front of him and then hollered at a couple more trucks ahead of us to ease over into the slow lane and slow down (because) this guy was an Amber Alert and he had a kid in the car,” Lowe said in an interview with “Land Line Now” on Jan. 10.

Lowe, a truck driver for Johnny Morris Farms of Hillsboro, Tenn., was credited with taking action that could have saved the life of the boy, 2-year-old Cael Whitehead, who was taken by his father, Austin Whitehead, 23, following a domestic disturbance in Houston County, Tenn.

Whitehead was believed to be en route to Covington, Ga., where he is from, and was just a few miles from the Georgia state line when the truckers spotted his car.

Lowe said that as they were creating the rolling roadblock a truck driver who was behind them on I-24 got on the CB and told them he had called 911. A Tennessee State Trooper was en route westbound about two miles behind them. By the time the state trooper caught up with them, Lowe said the trucks had slowed Whitehead’s car down to only about 30 mph. He had originally been traveling about 75 to 80 mph.

March 21

Team effort leads to rescue of man from burning car

Truck driver Tony Linton was one of a handful of good Samaritans who played a role in saving the life of a 27-year-old man who was trapped in a flaming car.

Linton, a UPS Freight driver, was southbound on I-65 near the County Road 600N overpass in Johnson County, Ind., when he came across the flaming wreckage of a car driven by 27-year-old Anthony Ingle.

Linton and other drivers began pulling off the road, bringing fire extinguishers, and trying to free the man trapped inside the burning vehicle. Linton said he could see flames begin to engulf the dashboard and steering wheel.

“I ran over with my fire extinguisher and started spraying,” he said in an interview with Land Line. “I bet we emptied four extinguishers, and the fire wasn’t going out. I looked down and told the guy ‘Buddy, we gotta get you out.’ He reached up and gave me his hand, but I couldn’t get him out.”

At that point, Linton raced back to his truck while others continued to spray the vehicle. He got on his CB radio and put out the call for more help, for police. The officer and Linton made their way to the wreck, but by that time two construction workers with pry bars had ripped the seat out from the floor of the vehicle and pulled the man out.

According to reports, Ingle lost control of his vehicle and went off the right side of the roadway. The car traveled up an embankment and struck the overpass before sliding back on to the interstate and catching fire.

May 9

Hero trucker saves man from submerged truck

OOIDA Senior Member Scott Rosenberg described his critical role in the rescue of a driver who was pinned in his submerged pickup truck as “being in the right place at the right time.”

Rosenberg, from Isanti, Minn., had just delivered his load of concrete products and was traveling north on Manning Trail near Stillwater, Minn., when he saw a couple of cars on the shoulder and another car make a U-turn behind him.

That’s when he saw that a pickup truck had gone off the road and was upside down in a pond.

“I knew that if somebody was in there they would drown because you couldn’t see any of the windows. All of the windows were under water, and the wheels were sticking up in the air,” Rosenberg told “Land Line Now.”

At first he and two other guys tried to use crowbars and a big bar to pry open the doors of the truck, which was heavily damaged. When that didn’t work, the guys asked him if he could “flip the truck over.”

Rosenberg, who drives for Morrell and Morrell LP in Elk River, Minn., also happened to have the only piece of equipment – a boom – on his trailer that could save the driver, who was pinned in his truck underwater.

“I threw it in reverse and backed across the road to the other shoulder and aligned my boom up with the vehicle,” Rosenberg said. “So I threw them a couple of chains. I jumped on my boom and swung it over, and they had the chains hooked up to the pickup truck already. Then I pulled it up and over and back on its wheels.”

Once the pickup was righted, Rosenberg said he and the other rescuers were unable to get the doors open and waited for emergency responders to cut open the doors.

The local sheriff’s office told “Land Line Now” that Rosenberg’s quick thinking and the boom on the back of his trailer definitely saved the driver’s life. Even if the first responders had been able to open the doors of the submerged vehicle – without the boom to pull the vehicle out of the water, the outcome would have been much different.

June 10

Trucker’s heroic sacrifice a lesson in the power of forgiveness

David Warren Stone was hauling a load of building materials on U.S. Highway 301 Bypass near his home in Rocky Mount, N.C., when he swerved to avoid a crash with an oncoming four-wheeler that pulled into the intersection while making a right turn. Stone’s rig struck a bridge railing then plunged into a rain-swollen creek. Stone lost his life, but probably saved the life of the teenage girl behind the wheel of the car.

The girl’s father, a former North Carolina state trooper, even said as much, calling Stone his hero.

Almost as remarkable as Stone’s sacrifice is his sons’ willingness to forgive the victim, a young driver who made a mistake. The Stones asked only that she plead guilty to a charge of failing to yield, pay the fine, and accept responsibility for the crash. A misdemeanor charge of death by motor vehicle was dismissed as part of the plea agreement.

Stone’s family did not seem to be bitter about the loss, at least not toward the young driver. The girl’s family recognized the sacrifice Stone made, that he traded his own life for their daughter’s, and appeared to be grateful. And Thomas herself went to court in September and accepted responsibility for her actions.

September 27

Trucker’s watchful eye, decisive action plays role in roadside accident

A roadside accident that left a tow truck driver in critical condition could have resulted in a hit and run if it weren’t for the quick thinking and decisive actions of one truck driver.

According to the Ohio Highway Patrol, a box truck heading westbound on U.S. 30 had stopped in Van Wert because of a flat tire on the truck’s front wheel on the driver side. Not long afterward a tow truck arrived and began working on the truck.

At 9:49 p.m., a white 2001 Ford 250 pickup struck tow truck driver Mark Campbell, 30, who was working on the tire on the highway shoulder. Patrol records say the pickup’s wheels ran over the tow truck driver’s feet, and the truck’s mirror struck his head.

Trucker Albert Lynch, 52, of Factoryville, Pa., told Land Line he moved his Freightliner Classic to the highway’s left lane but noticed the pickup not moving over. When Lynch saw the pickup not slow down, he pulled closely behind it and flashed his high beams multiple times. Eventually, the pickup’s driver pulled over between a quarter-mile and a half-mile later.

The tow truck driver was airlifted in critical condition to a hospital near his home in Fort Wayne, Ind.

According to Lynch, the impact of the wreck ripped the pickup’s right mirror off.

“How could you not tell you hit somebody?” Lynch said.

Lynch has been an owner-operator and a driver for 34 years, and he’s noticed a growing problem with drivers not moving over for emergency vehicles. Helping ensure that the pickup driver stopped, he said, was just something he hoped someone would do for him.

The tow truck driver has undergone multiple surgeries to address a protruding leg, skull lacerations, and trauma to his eye sockets.

Editor’s note: Land Line has learned that Albert “Ick” Lynch, passed away on Oct. 28 due to a heart attack. He was 52.

September 30

Walmart driver helps rescue teen driver from burning SUV

Toby Vigil says he was just doing what any truck driver would have done.

Vigil, 62, hauling dry van trailers for a Walmart distribution center out of Loveland, Colo., was en route to his drop site in Rapid City, S.D., when he noticed what appeared to be a dump truck with the bed elevated.

That “dump truck” turned out to be an SUV in mid-flip, as it rolled end over end down the embankment. The 16-year-old driver was still trapped inside.

“I saw a situation where help was needed, and I grabbed my fire extinguisher and tried to help,” Vigil told “Land Line Now.” “The first visual I got was of the SUV flipping. It was on fire when it was flipping. That’s why I immediately grabbed my fire extinguisher.”

Just moments before, at around 3:40 p.m., the SUV had been involved in a three-vehicle crash that caused several injuries on Elk Vale Road, just south of Highway 44 in Rapid City, according to a release from the Rapid City Police Department.

A 2013 Kia Rio, driven by another 16-year-old male, was heading north on Elk Vale in the right lane. The driver changed over to the left lane, striking a 2006 Ford Expedition that was also traveling north in the left lane. The impact pushed the Expedition across the median into the southbound lanes, where it was struck head-on by a southbound 2007 Ford Edge. Immediately after, the Edge was struck by a 2003 Dodge Neon. The Expedition was pushed off the road and rolled down a hill, catching fire.

While other passersby stopped to assist the occupants of the other two vehicles, Vigil and a group of about 10 others made their way down the embankment to try to put out the fire that was consuming the Expedition.

“It was burning too hot,” he said. “We had no effect on it with our fire extinguishers.”

The sunroof of the SUV had become dislodged in the crash, allowing Vigil and several others to reach in there to pull the boy from burning wreckage.

“I halfway crawled in,” he said. “All I could see was the driver, his head and arms. His legs were wedged, trapped between console and dash. It was clear that they were severely broken.”

It took three people to pull the boy’s broken body from the twisted metal. Vigil said once the victim was free, the whole group sprinted away from the flames and back to the highway, carrying the boy between them.

“We’d got maybe 20 to 30 feet away when the vehicle started blowing up,” he said. “(EMTs) would not have gotten there in time. It would have blown up.”

Vigil downplayed his role in the rescue, saying he was “just a small part” of the effort to assist all three injured parties.

“I don’t consider myself having done anything out of the ordinary,” he said. “It’s something I assume every truck driver would do. And I believe that every Walmart driver would do the same thing. I was glad I was able to be there and help out, but I was a small part of an overall bigger thing. I’m glad the young man survived; I’m glad everybody else survived. And the fact that he did survive and that I played a small part in that, yeah, it makes a person feel good.” LL

Land Line Associate Editor David Tanner, Staff Writers Clarissa Hawes and Greg Grisolano, Land Line Contributing Writer Charlie Morasch, and “Land Line Now” News Anchor Reed Black contributed to this story.