More Than a Name on a Sign

Most of the time, when a construction project is dedicated it’s in honor of a politician, philanthropist, war hero or maybe some once-famous but now all-but-forgotten entertainer. That is not the case with the new overpass bridge on Interstate 65 in downtown Birmingham, Ala. The Alabama Legislature overwhelmingly approved a resolution in April to name the bridge after trucker Tim Dison of Killen, Ala, who died in a fiery crash that collapsed the original structure in January.

Public safety officials credited Tim with taking evasive actions that may have saved other lives when a four-wheeler cut in front of his loaded fuel tanker. Tim’s truck hit a bridge support and exploded into flames.

Tim, like many other hard-working truckers, was simply trying to do his job to the best of his ability when fate intervened. “Tim took pride in whatever he did,” says Karen, his wife of 14 years. “He was proud of his job.” Karen met her future husband when she was 14 and married him when she turned 18. “He was everything to me.”

To many people who knew him, Tim was a friendly man who worked hard to support his wife and two young sons. Karen says everyone he delivered to liked him. At home he was a handyman and Super Dad to 6-year-old Kaleb and 3-year-old Drew.

“Tim took the kids to my mother’s house when he was building it,” Karen says. “They helped bring him tools. He took them fishing and played with them with his remote-controlled airplanes.”

Kaleb now tries to do things like his father. He asks for barbeque ribs like his dad, Karen says. But the younger Drew doesn’t mention his father as much as he did right after the accident when he wondered why his father didn’t come home at night. “It was heartbreaking when (Drew) was asking about him every day,” Karen says. “It was more heartbreaking when he stopped asking about him.”

Karen says the bridge will now be something that she can point to as she and her sons pass through Birmingham, and it will help the boys as they try to understand what kind of man their father was. “I think it’s wonderful, especially for his sons,” she says. “But I think it means a lot to truckers also – working-class men who drive the roads each day.”

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I occasionally get calls from drivers who throw out the idea of some kind of memorial for truckers killed each year on America’s highways. They usually suggest something like the memorial wall in Washington, D.C. for police officers who have died in the line of duty.

Such a worthwhile project would take political clout or a lot of money. Sadly, the names on the memorial would grow at an average of 645 names per year (based on the Fatality Analysis Reporting System and the Motor Carrier Management Information System Crash File figures for the past 10 years) if the deadly trend of drivers killed annually holds true.

That’s not only 645 names; it’s also 645 stories of personal tragedy. The names would represent hundreds of men and women like Tim Dison, who left behind a legacy of hard work and daily sacrifice for their love ones.

Having a public structure named in memory of someone like Tim is a rarity. I personally have never heard of a trucker receiving this type of honor. Then again, his actions on Jan. 5 of this year more than justify this recognition.

For Karen, whose stepfather is also a trucker, the dedication of the bridge in honor of Tim is much more personal. She lost a husband, a best friend and a father to her young boys. With the passage of time, much of what her boys will know about their father will be what she tells them. “Tim was a wonderful dad,” Karen says. “There are so many bad dads out there and you get someone like him and then he gets taken away. It doesn’t seem right.”

No it doesn’t.