Highway hero reaps rewards of heroic rescue
By Deirdra Drinkard
Though the accident happened more than a year ago, independent driver Jorge Orozco-Sanchez well remembers the collision, the flames, the screams and the lives taken that day. On Oct. 28, 2008, an SUV heading east on U.S. Highway 392 suddenly crossed the center line and struck his rig head on. He remembers seeing the flames that broke out under the SUV and hearing two young children trapped in carseats screaming from within.
Orozco-Sanchez called 911, then reacted as he says any father of two would.
“I wasn’t scared for myself when I found out about the kids,” he says. “They are the future, and I just thought of my own kids.”
Orozco-Sanchez rushed to the burning SUV and began to unfasten 4-year-old Peyton Nicklas from her carseat. After getting her out of harm’s way, Orozco-Sanchez returned to the burning vehicle to get the second child.
“I had trouble with the second one because of the carseat,” he says. “With all the smoke, I couldn’t see anything.” After a struggle, Orozco-Sanchez pulled 1-year-old Morgen Nicklas from the car. With the two children safely away from the burning vehicles, Orozco-Sanchez returned to the vehicle to try to save the driver, the children’s mother. By this time, the flames and heat were unbearable, and the mother could not be saved.
During the event, Orozco-Sanchez suffered minor burns to his hands and face and lost two things very special to him — his dog and his truck. His 2000 Freightliner Century caught fire during the accident, trapping his Chihuahua Onza inside.
“I lost my dog, my companion there,” he says, but losing the Freightliner was more difficult, representing a near total loss of income.
Though a hero, Orozco-Sanchez was out of work and unsure what to do. Fortunately, his good deed was not overlooked. On Sept. 29, 2009, Orozco-Sanchez was announced as one of 20 individuals receiving the Carnegie Medal. As a recipient of the Carnegie Medal, which recognizes individuals from throughout the United States and Canada who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree while saving or attempting to save the lives of others, Orozco-Sanchez received a $5,000 grant. On Saturday, Oct. 17, Goodyear flew him and his family to Pomona, Calif., for Truck Show Latino, where he was publicly awarded the Carnegie Medal by Doug Chambers, Director of External Affairs of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission.
Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. also recognized him by awarding the 26th Goodyear North American Highway Hero Award to him at the 2009 Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., in March. He received a plaque, a $10,000 savings bond and a Highway Hero ring with his name engraved inside.
“He is very deserving,” says Jim Davis, public relations manager for Goodyear. “His bravery is an example of individuals putting others before themselves.”
Though not connected to the award, Goodyear also provided Orozco-Sanchez with 18 new tires and wheels for a new truck as he worked hard to get back on the road. Other truck companies also contributed to his quest. OOIDA’s radio news reporter Reed Black heard Orozco-Sanchez’s story and wanted to help him, OOIDA media spokesperson Norita Taylor says.
“We assisted him with identifying used equipment and set up a loan for him,” Taylor says.
With the help of several companies, Orozco-Sanchez was looking to get a 2005 Freightliner Columbia, but he still needed money for the insurance and down payment.
Approached by OOIDA, the Truck Writers of North America organization came to the rescue and donated $700 from its own treasury, TWNA Executive Director Tom Kelley says. With money still needed, TWNA called member companies asking for donations and collected $2,300. A total of $3,000 was donated to Orozco-Sanchez.
Orozco-Sanchez was able to get the truck he wanted on May 30, 2009, and on June 3 was back on the road working.
“Thank you to Goodyear, to Carnegie, to OOIDA, to TWNA and to everyone that helped me get back on the road,” Orozco-Sanchez says. “Thank you.”
TCA honors Highway Angel
Michael Hunt received the Truckload Carriers Association’s 2009 Highway Angel of the Year award at Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl college football game on Dec. 30 in Boise, Idaho.
Hunt, a former driver for Mail Contractors of America and now an owner-operator, helped save a life at the scene of a fatal accident. Hunt was driving his tractor-trailer when he came across a two-car collision on NC 24 near Spring Lake, N.C. Initially, Hunt attempted to put out the flames on one of the vehicles with his fire extinguisher, but the blaze was too strong, and that driver perished. Realizing the second driver was still alive, Hunt used his tractor-trailer to push the vehicle away from the fire. The North Carolina State Highway Patrol honored Hunt with an award for valor.
To learn more about TCA’s Highway Angel program or to nominate a truck driver, visit www.truckload.org/Highway-Angel.