A double life

| January 03, 2006

Trucker/Senator Robert Starr and the wreckage of his truck and a car after they both hit a highway cave-in. Starr rescued the car’s driver.

Trucker Robert Starr gets up and goes to work every day like everyone else. But one day he wears jeans and boots, and the next he wears a suit and tie.

The 63-year-old Starr, owner of Starr’s Transportation, has been a truck driver for 35 years and has been helping shape politics in Vermont all his life. He was a Democratic state representative for Vermont for 26 years, and in 2005 was elected as a Vermont state senator. In the past, he has also served on the school board and zoning board in his hometown of North Troy, Vt., and as director of the Vermont Truck and Bus Association.

Although daily legislation and deskwork keep Starr busy, he still drives nearly 50,000 miles a year, hauling plywood, Styrofoam beads, furniture parts and animal supplements. His small, family-owned company employs 32 people and covers highway all the way to the West Coast.

“You certainly know about the real world by being a truck driver,” Starr says. “It keeps reality close to home – more than someone who doesn’t work with regular folks.”

In addition to his contributions to the people of Vermont, Starr has shown his share of heroism on the road.

Starr was hauling a light load on Autoroute 40, near Trois Rivieres, Quebec, Canada, when the car in front of him braked at a 2-foot trench in the middle of the road. A construction crew had been digging a drainage pipe underneath the road, and as Starr neared the trench, he realized it was getting bigger, eventually reaching 30 feet wide. (The cause of the widening trench is under investigation.)

The car’s driver, Ann Ayotte, couldn’t stop her car, and as she hit the trench, the impact buckled the front end of the car underneath and pushed the floor upward, trapping her feet in the floorboard.

Starr realized he could not stop his truck in time and accelerated, throwing the front end of the tractor-trailer across the culvert but ripping the back wheels off. The fuel tanks caught on fire as the truck skidded to a stop.

Starr barely escaped the flames of his own truck as he jumped out to rescue the woman trapped in her car. A retired paramedic rushed to the scene, along with Matt Matthew, a fellow trucker who stopped to help, and the three men tore off the car door and carried the woman away from the car as it burst into flames.

Ayotte, a college student at the University of Three Rivers in Trois Rivieres, suffered multiple injuries, including one leg broken in two places, one leg broken in one place, a shattered ankle and a dislocated hip. After months in the hospital, she is still recovering.

Starr continues to check up on Ayotte, saying simply, “I wouldn’t abandon her, that’s for sure.”

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