Lucinda “Cindy” Lutes, a trucker from Washington, Pa., was heading south on Interstate 81 in Georgia last June when she began running into debris on the dark roadway. She then noticed an odd sight on the right-hand side of the road: a set of headlights in a vertical position.
“I knew someone needed me,” Lutes says. She radioed a truck driver behind her and told him to “hit the shoulder.” Then she secured her rig and hurried down the embankment to investigate.
Lutes found a car lying on its side in high weeds. A young man was trapped inside.
“I couldn’t get the windshield out to free him, so I leaped up on top of the car and looked down on the passenger side,” Lutes says. “I could see the boy was alive; he gasped for air, but wasn’t conscious.”
Another trucker who had appeared on the scene reported seeing two girls lying on the road. Then they heard a girl scream, and Lutes went to find them. One of the girls had a bone sticking out of her ankle; the other had a bone protruding from her elbow and complained that she couldn’t feel her back. Lutes instructed both girls not to move. She covered them up with blankets and tried calming them with light conversation. One of the young women appeared to be particularly despondent, and Lutes, hoping to lift the girl’s spirits, promised her a ride in Lutes’ truck when she got better.
At least 15 minutes had passed since one of three truckers who stopped to help had called 911. Lutes was especially concerned about the young man, who was bleeding from the head, so she called 911 again and gave a clear description of the situation.
“When it was all over, I couldn’t believe what I had just done,” Lutes says. “But I’d do it again. I’m the kind of person who’s always there to help anybody. It doesn’t matter: if you need a sandwich, I’ll buy you a sandwich; if you need a blanket, I’ll buy you a blanket.”
The next day, after being awake for 24 hours, Lutes attempted to locate the young victims. “It took me most of the day to find out how the kids were doing,” she says. She gave the hospitals her phone number, hoping she would receive a call with information on their condition. Three days later she received a call from one of the young people’s friends saying all three of them were fine, but had a long way to go.
“I do appreciate what I did for those kids,” Lutes says, “and I hope one day [that girl] will come get her free truck ride.”
Lutes received a Highway Angel lapel pin, certificate and patch for her efforts at the scene of the accident. Dart Transit also received a certificate for acknowledging a Highway Angel in their midst.
Since its inception in August 1997, the Highway Angel program has recognized hundreds of drivers for the unusual kindness, courtesy and courage they have shown others while on the job. TCA has received letters and e-mails from people across the country nominating truck drivers for the program.