The 27th annual Goodyear North America Highway Hero is an Oregon truck driver who helped save the lives of three people involved in a fiery traffic accident, including one driver who was trapped in his burning vehicle. Junichi Shimizu accepted the award and a $10,000 U.S. savings bond on Thursday, March 25, during the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, KY.
On Feb. 20, 2009, Shimizu, a driver for Chipman Relocations, was driving westbound on Highway 12 near Fairfield, CA, and witnessed a vehicle cross the centerline of the road and strike an automobile in front of his truck. The auto spun into the ditch, and the other vehicle then hit his tractor twice before bursting into flames.
Upon coming to a stop, Shimizu called for assistance and then headed to the vehicle that was in flames. Unable to open the driver’s side door due to the damage, he told the driver to protect his face and he punched out the glass in order to pull the driver free of the car. Gaining help from another motorist, he was able to free the driver’s foot, which was wedged under the dashboard, then carry the driver to safety.
Running to the other car, he quickly assessed that the driver was deceased, but there were two injured passengers inside. The passengers were removed, and Shimizu retrieved his fire extinguisher to keep the blaze under control until the local fire department arrived.
Shimizu, of Gladstone, OR, also has been recognized by the California Highway Patrol with a certificate of commendation for his role in the lifesaving effort associated with the 2009 crash.
“In this terrible accident, one driver perished, and our thoughts and prayers go out to this family,” said Joseph Copeland, Goodyear’s vice president of commercial tire systems.
“But we also honor the quick actions and selflessness of Junichi Shimizu. Although his own rig was struck in this accident, he remained calm and immediately pulled his vehicle to a stop and called for help. He then reacted quickly and put himself in harm’s way, in order to help rescue strangers who were in peril. Because of that decision, three lives were saved. For this, Junichi has earned the right to be called a hero.”
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.
Shimizu was selected along with three other truck drivers as finalists for the 2009 award. Other finalists included:
George Lantzy, of Turtle Creek, PA, a driver for Fubar Trucking. As Lantzy drove his tractor-trailer on Route 22 outside of Weirton, WV, on March 12, 2009, he noticed a car along the highway’s shoulder that was slowly drifting into traffic. As he drove closer, he saw an elderly woman slumped over the steering wheel, and realized something was drastically wrong.
The car was headed toward a potential accident on the busy highway, so Lantzy made a snap decision to get involved. He maneuvered his rig alongside the car, and drove in front to allow the car to contact the rear of his trailer, thus creating an impromptu roadblock and easing the woman’s car away from danger.
Once he was able to force the out-of-control car to a standstill, police and paramedics arrived. The driver, who had suffered a heart attack, was transported to a nearby hospital where she made a full recovery following surgery.
Stephen Page, of Gloucester, MA, a driver for Pit Bull Trucking. On July 14, 2009, Page was driving along U.S. Interstate 80 near Clearfield, PA, when he spotted a fire in the woods alongside the roadway. He and another driver ran into the woods to find the burning wreckage of a double-unit rig that had gone nearly 1,500 feet off the highway.
Upon reaching the driver of the truck, he first believed the driver had not survived, but then realized he had lost consciousness. The cab was getting hotter by the second, and Page and the other driver struggled to remove the victim. Finally, with the help of two more truckers who had stopped, the injured driver was removed before the tractor and trailer were completely destroyed by fire.
Page stayed with the injured driver, talking with him as he drifted in and out of consciousness. With severe burns, the man was eventually flown to a hospital. He has a long road to recovery, but is alive, thanks to the lifesaving efforts of Page and others.
Jesse Lee Seal, of Alma, AR, a driver for PDP Unlimited. Early in the morning of Oct. 7, 2009, Seal was driving his 18-wheeler southbound on Interstate 530 near Little Rock, AR, when another truck ahead of him abruptly swerved left, went across the median and the northbound lanes, eventually coming to rest on an opposite embankment. As this happened, the truck lost a fuel tank, which caught fire.
Seal quickly stopped his truck, grabbed his fire extinguisher and ran across the lanes to provide assistance. As he passed by, he extinguished the burning fuel tank and hurried to the disabled truck. Once there, he was able to open the hot door, put out the fire that was burning the driver’s legs, and cut the seat belt to remove the injured driver.