Mother and Child in Peril

Tom Johnson had a decision to make. The life of a 6-week-old baby might well depend on how he made it.

Johnson, a trucker from Black Mountain, N.C. was making a delivery for Con-Way Southern Express in western North Carolina when the day began. Rounding a slight curve on I-64, he recalled, “all I saw was dust.” He had little doubt a serious accident had happened. Realizing that someone might need help, Johnson quickly parked his rig and went to investigate.

A pickup truck had swerved off the road, rolled down an embankment and landed on the driver’s side door. It had come to rest only yards from stored propane tanks. Johnson clambered down the embankment and found a female pinned in the driver’s seat. A motorist joined Johnson, and they frantically began trying to free her. Then the woman began shouting for her baby. Johnson immediately looked around, trying to find the child. There was a car seat, still restrained in the pickup, but it was empty.

But when he looked down to the ground, there, just inches from his foot lay a tiny baby, covered by the vehicle from his chest down. “I lost it when I saw the baby,” said Johnson, himself a father of three children. The child lay unconscious, his mouth full of blood. He had a cracked skull and a large gash in the back of his head. Johnson faced his decision.

Johnson was concerned about moving the baby. He had no way of knowing how much internal damage the baby had suffered, or whether any spinal or other damage could be worsened, or even initiated, if he moved the infant. But Johnson also had no way of knowing if the wrecked pickup might burst into flames. And there, only feet away from the infant, were propane tanks. He decided to try and get the baby out from under the vehicle.

“I weighed the two options, and with the propane tanks nearby,” he recalled, “I felt it was the best thing to do.”

Despite the weight of the battered pickup, Johnson said he and the other motorist were “able to lift the cab of the truck to where we could use our feet and push him [the baby] out from under.”

Had the vehicle rested any further up the baby’s chest, Johnson said it would have crushed the infant’s lungs. “Miraculously, he survived,” said Johnson. The mother had suffered multiple fractures, but she had also survived.

The baby’s extremely grateful grandfather made several attempts to reward Johnson, but the trucker wouldn’t hear of it. He asked only that the grandfather do the same for others who might need help. “That’s what it’s all about,” said Johnson, who’s been driving since he was 17 years old.

Johnson received a Highway Angel lapel pin, certificate, and patch for his efforts at the scene of the accident. 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. TCA has received letters and emails from people across the country nominating truck drivers for the program.