It was there in front of them so suddenly, a quiet interstate shattered by disaster.
Truckers Lonnie Van Dyne and Eugene Gilbert spent five and a half hours desperately trying to save victims of a violent wreck and collision they happened upon without warning, on I-80 in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Van Dyne and Gilbert, both residents of Omaha, Neb., and drivers for Hunt Transportation Inc., were driving on I-80 when they came upon the accident. A Cadillac had hit a light post, careened through both lanes of traffic and the median and then slammed into a Lincoln Continental going the other way on the interstate.
As a volunteer firefighter Van Dyne had experience with emergency situations. His first move was to check both cars’ occupants to assess the extent of any injuries. From his training, he knew not to move the occupants to prevent them from getting further injured. He returned to his truck and called 9-1-1.
But by the time Van Dyne finished the call and walked around his truck back to the wreckage, a fire had started in the Lincoln. Gilbert reacted quickly. He freed the passenger from the front seat of the car then climbed through the flames into the Lincoln to free the passenger in the back seat.
Gilbert says he was “working on adrenaline” and his only thought was, “These people can’t burn.” As Gilbert freed the passengers, Van Dyne tended to them on the side of the road, keeping them warm with his coat and reassuring them that help was on the way, essential steps to keep the danger of shock at bay.
In spite of their heroic acts, the accident claimed three lives and closed all four lanes of I-80, backing up traffic all the way into Nebraska. Van Dyne and Gilbert spent five and a half hours at the accident scene and say they would “stop again in a minute.”
“Those guys deserve credit,” says Sgt. Pat Toscano of the Council Bluffs Police Department. “This is one of the worst [accidents] for a long time that caused such mayhem that I’ve seen, and I’ve been around a long time.”
Gilbert says he doesn’t see himself as a hero. “I don’t have a big head about this,” he says. “I don’t want to be a hero; I just want to go back to being a regular truck driver.”
Both Van Dyne and Gilbert received a Highway Angel lapel pin, certificate and patch for their efforts, and their employer, Hunt Transportation Inc., also received a certificate for acknowledging these Highway Angels in its 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. Truckload Carriers Association has received letters and e-mails from people across the country nominating truck drivers for the program.
Nominate a Highway Angel
Highway Angels recognition is awarded for a driver’s good deeds, ranging from simple acts of kindness, like fixing a flat tire, to heroic life-saving efforts, like pulling someone from a burning vehicle and administering CPR. When you know of, witness or experience an exceptional act of kindness or courtesy by a truck driver, you can nominate that trucker for a Highway Angel award by filling out the electronic form at www.truckload.org or faxing the information to (703) 836-6610. Make sure the fax says “Attention Highway Angels program” on the cover sheet and that the driver’s name is clearly visible.
To view archival copies of past Highway Angel press releases, visit our website address at www.truckload.org/press03.htm. To nominate a driver online, go to www.truckload.org/angelform.htm. For more information on the program, contact TCA at 703/838-1950 or via email at Angel@truckload.org.