Heroes of the Road

Gwinnett County Police Officer Lou Gregoire is still on patrol today because of David Zorn.

A young girl is home and
safe with her family thanks to
Carl Tafua.

A mother of two young children survives a brutal domestic attack because of Edward Bowlin.

Three motorists escape fiery deaths thanks to Brent Shupe.

What Zorn, Tafua, Bowlin and Shupe all have in common is more than their occupation. The four truck drivers are ordinary people who were put in extraordinary situations and went the extra mile to help complete strangers. The four drivers were honored as finalists for the 2000 Goodyear North America Highway Hero Award at the Mid-America Trucking Show in March.

Goodyear selected Zorn as its National Highway Hero for 2000, and Gregoire was among the press conference attendees in Louisville, Ky., to offer him his thanks for getting involved. The police officer, who was struggling with a suspect trying to get to his firearm along a roadway in Georgia, says he probably won’t be alive today if Zorn had not stopped to help.

Bowlin also came upon an assault and acted heroically. He witnessed an assailant trying to run over his estranged wife before stabbing her in the chest. Bowlin tackled the suspect and pinned him to ground until police arrived.

Shupe also put himself in harm’s way to help others. After another vehicle crashed into his truck and caught fire, he pulled two female passengers from the burning car as the reefer unit on his truck exploded. Despite suffering burns on his arm, Shupe dragged the elderly driver away from his car seconds before it exploded.

Tafua’s story is also inspiring. He assisted an 8-year-old girl who ran up to his truck screaming that someone was after her. The girl had been kidnapped two days before. Tafua took down the fleeing suspect’s license plate number, which later resulted in an arrest.

Sadly, there are people who turn a deaf ear to cries for help. Take what happened to 23-year-old Miami gas station attendant Jose Ramon Baldizon in 1997. Three separate times people walked into his work place and saw a robber holding a gun to Baldizon’s head. On each occasion, they witnessed a man in fear for his life. Each person walked away and did nothing – not even a call to the police. Baldizon died of a single shot to the head.

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You can argue that being a hero in this case probably would have been suicidal. But what stopped these witnesses from calling for help? “They just spun around and left, salvation making a U-turn,” was how one Miami Herald columnist described their actions.

I have honestly found that truck drivers are often more than willing to lend a helping hand, even in the smallest emergencies, when others don’t want to get involved. When I was on the road, drivers assisted me with dead batteries, keys locked in the truck and breakdowns.

As a youngster, I remember my dad’s old Ford Galaxy blowing its engine along a rural Alabama highway on the way back from visiting my mother who was in the hospital. My dad, little sister, 82-year-old great-grandmother and I stood beside the car with its hood raised as car after car – including a county sheriff patrol vehicle – passed us.

It was a truck driver who finally stopped to offer his assistance. At first, I thought he stopped because he knew my dad, who also was a trucker. But the driver said he was from Kentucky. He chatted with my dad a few minutes and then helped Granny and my sister climb into his rig. He drove us the 30 miles or so to our home and sounded his air horn at my sister and me as he pulled away.

Truck drivers often block the road at accident scenes, make calls for help on their CBs and cell phones and stop to assist stranded motorists. They also free people from wrecked vehicles and administer first aid to the injured.

Too many times, truckers are cast in a bad light because of the actions of a few careless drivers who break the law or cause a senseless accident. There are many more good deeds that truck drivers do that go unnoticed and unrewarded.

There are programs like the Goodyear North America Highway Hero and TCA Highway Angel to bring greater attention to drivers who go above and beyond what is expected of them. But people usually don’t help others for the rewards they might receive in the future. They do it because they see other people in trouble – people very much like themselves – and they want to help. They hope that if they are ever placed in a situation in which they need assistance, someone will be there for them.

Jose Ramon Baldizon might be alive today if everyone adhered to this simple philosophy. Thankfully, there are a lot people like David Zorn, Carl Tafua, Edward Bowlin and Brent Shupe who care about others and are willing to get involved. And because of them, a police is still on patrol, a young girl is safe, three motorists escaped fiery deaths and a mother can hug her two young children.

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