A Bittersweet Rescue

It was so close.

Russell Ruppel, a trucker from Burlington, Ontario, leapt from his cab and raced to save two people trapped in a car that had slid on a rain-slicked road and crashed into a water-filled ditch.

The car’s passenger was saved. The driver was freed from the wreckage, but he died two weeks later. While Ruppel was saddened by the driver’s death, the driver’s family, who were grateful to have been by the side of this husband and father for those two weeks, thanked him.

Ruppel was returning from a delivery in Windsor, Ontario, when he was told he had to switch trailers with another driver at a service center he had just passed. Ruppel turned onto a country road that ran parallel with the highway so he could turn around.

It had been raining earlier that day and the roadway was wet. Ruppel spotted a car swerving on the slippery road, and just when he thought the driver had regained control, the vehicle slid through an intersection and landed in a ditch filled with water. Ruppel knew he had to stop.

“My first thought was if the car was on the roof, the driver was going to need help fast,” Ruppel said.

He ran to the car and found two men inside. The driver was unconscious and bleeding. The passenger, though conscious, was too shaken up to even move when Ruppel asked him to try to turn off the ignition.

None of the car’s doors would open. As the car began to fill up with water Ruppel began to worry that he might be running out of time. He knew the freezing water temperature meant here was a danger of hypothermia, and that, coupled with their injuries meant the men needed to get out of the car as quickly as possible.

Another car was on the road now, and Ruppel flagged it down. The driver used a cell phone to call for help.That call helped one of the victims get to hospital a lot sooner than he might otherwise have made it. Then another motorist stopped and together the three pried open the back door of the vehicle and pulled the passenger from the car.

“It was quite an effort for us to get him out. The water was up past the fellow’s waist,” Ruppel said. “It took two of us to drag him up from the bank.”

An ambulance arrived and Ruppel helped the paramedics stabilize the passenger. The fire department came to the scene soon after and used the “jaws of life” to free the driver from the vehicle.

Ruppel later found out that the driver died about two weeks after the accident. The man’s widow, however, wrote Ruppel a heartfelt letter thanking him for stopping to help her husband and prolonging his life. She said that because of Ruppel, her husband made it to the hospital sooner and was able to spend a little more time with her and their two sons.

Ruppel wishes the ending could have been a happier one, but he is glad that he was able to do something to help the family. “Whenever it looks like someone needs a hand, I stop to help them,” he said.

For lending a helping hand Ruppel received a Highway Angel lapel pin, certificate and patch. MacKinnon Transport Inc. also received a certificate for acknowledging a highway angel in their midst.

Since 1997, the Highway Angel program has recognized hundreds of drivers for showing unusual kindness, courtesy and courage to others while on the job. The Truckload Carriers Association receives letters and e-mails from people across the country nominating truck drivers for this program.

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