OOIDA Member Tilden Curl honored as 2010 Goodyear Highway Hero

By Sandi Soendker, managing editor | 4/1/2011

“I remember looking at the oncoming train through the windshield,” said trucker Tilden Curl, who was honored in Louisville Thursday night for helping save the lives of two people in a car that had come to a stop on railroad tracks as a train came rushing down on it. Curl said, “You don’t realize how big a train is until you see it from that perspective.”

Submitted By: Sandi Soendker

Leslie and Tilden Curl. Tilden, an OOIDA member since 2001, is the new Goodyear Highway Hero

From among four finalists, Curl accepted the 2010 Goodyear North America Highway Hero award at the Truck Writers of North America awards event during the Mid-America Trucking Show Thursday night. He was awarded a $10,000 U.S. Savings Bond during the Mid-America Trucking Show.

OOIDA member Curl, an independent trucker from Olympia, WA, relaxed Friday morning, ready to enjoy MATS. Goodyear started the day with a tour of the Louisville Slugger bat factory and museum for Curl, the other three finalists and their families. Each took time to talk to OOIDA media about the incidents for which they were honored in the 28th annual Goodyear North America Highway Hero program.

As for Curl, he was glad to have been able to save a life – but primarily, it’s meaningful to him that his wife, Leslie, his children – and in the future, his grandchildren – will have something by which to proudly remember him.

Curl recounted his story. Just after noon on Oct. 27, 2010, Curl was driving southbound on Highway 99 near Tulare, CA, when a vehicle appeared to lose control and cross traffic, leaving the highway and finally coming to a stop with its front wheels lodged over the railroad tracks that run parallel to the highway. While getting his truck stopped to check on the car, Curl noticed a train was coming. An elderly woman, obviously disoriented, got out of the passenger side of the car, and Curl yelled for her to get clear of the tracks. The engineer of the train was blowing on the horn.

“He knew he was going to hit the car,” said Curl, “because it was obvious that was going to happen.”

Curl ran without hesitation to the driver’s side of the car. And then he did what he called “the next right thing.”

“The driver was unresponsive and trapped inside,” said Curl. “At first, I couldn’t get the door open because of the automatic locks but he had a bit of the window down and I was able to get my arm in there and unlock it. I was able to unfasten the guy's seat belt and drag him out of the car and away from the area.”

He watched in shock as the train collided with the stranded vehicle.

Of the three other truck drivers selected as finalists, Curl says “each one was every bit as deserving as me. Today, I really am walking among heroes.”

Friday’s tour of the bat factory was also a fun family event for the other three finalists, including a driver from Nebraska, one from Texas, and one owner-operator from Florida.

Bill Howard, of Litchfield, NE, is an OOIDA member. He was driving at the time for Howard Transportation. As Howard drove on Highway 2 near Ravenna, NE, on May 22, 2010, a car crossed the center line and struck his rig that included a grain trailer.

“The female driver appeared to have fallen asleep. The car was drifting into the truck's drive wheels, then underneath the trailer before coming to rest alongside the road.”

Howard stopped his truck and jumped out to find a badly injured driver.

“Her arm was nearly severed, she had two broken legs, and injuries to her face and head,” he said. Keeping his cool, Howard was able to call for emergency assistance and her life was saved.

Howard said he actually met the woman earlier this week.

“She is amazing. She is 30 years old, married and has kids,” he said, “I admire someone like her who was so badly injured and has come back from it.”

Jaime “Tony” Avitia, of El Paso, TX, is a driver for Stagecoach Cartage. Early in the morning of Aug. 31, 2010, Avitia was driving on I-10 on his way to a company facility in Laredo, TX. Beneath I-10 at this point is Highway 17 and a dead-end service road.

“I noticed a pickup truck driving at high speed and then it suddenly left the roadway, hit a concrete drainage culvert nose-first, flipped into the air and landed upright,” said Avitia.

He quickly stopped his truck, grabbed a flashlight and first-aid kit, and scrambled down the embankment toward the truck. He opened the front door, but couldn’t find anyone inside. He then realized the driver – not wearing a seat belt – had been thrown into the back seat of the crew cab. Unable to find a pulse, Avitia was able to kneel on the front seat, squeeze between the arm rests and administer CPR on the man.

“I told my wife Terry, in the films on CPR, everyone is laid out flat and you have plenty of working space. That was not the way it was. But after four chest compressions, he finally coughed and began to breathe.”

Another trucker had approached the wrecked pickup and Avitia told him to call 911. Until paramedics arrived, Avitia found a towel in the vehicle and used it to control bleeding.

David Nelson, of Orlando, FL, is an owner-operator leased to Werner Enterprises out of Omaha. On Feb. 2, 2010, while driving on I-20 near Birmingham, AL, Nelson was flagged down by a woman who had just lost control of her vehicle and hit a road sign.

“I pulled over,” he said. “It seemed that no one else was willing to help. She was saying ‘my daughter is dead!’”

The woman’s 7-year-old daughter had been injured and was not breathing. To make matters more intense, he learned the child had a previous heart condition. A certified EMT for 25 years, Nelson placed the girl on the ground and performed CPR until emergency personnel arrived.

Nelson reports that the girl is alive and healthy, and he has become an acquaintance of the family, who texts him frequently.

Founded by Goodyear in 1983, the Highway Hero program recognizes professional truck drivers and the often unnoticed, life-saving rescues and roadside assistance.

Curl said on Friday that he had also been nominated for a Carnegie Award for Heroism – an award that is given to heroes who have risked their own lives to save the life of another.

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