Highway Hero finalists
for 2007 defy danger
Feb 12, 2008 9:04 AM
As finalists for Goodyear’s 25th annual North America Highway Hero Award, two truck drivers dove into chilly, murky waters to pull victims to safety in separate incidents; a Canadian driver made a lightning-quick decision and died to save other lives; and a New Mexico driver rescued a pregnant woman from a brutal attack after she was run over by her boyfriend’s truck.
For 2007, the finalists are Richard Filiczkowski of Bountiful UT; Rick Tower of Yreka CA; the late David Glenn Virgoe of Innisfil, Ontario; and Ronnie D. Greene of Regina NM.
•Filiczkowski, a driver for C.R. England Inc., based in West Valley City UT, saved the life of an eight-year-old girl after her father accidently drove his car into a pond April 26, 2007, along Interstate 90 near Plankinton SD.
Filiczkowski’s wife, Janet, was driving the rig when she saw the one-car accident. She yelled for her husband, who was resting in the sleeper compartment. He quickly dressed, grabbed his shoes, and ran a quarter-mile to the scene. As he entered the frigid eight-foot-deep pond, he could hear the girl’s screams.
The girl’s father was unresponsive, and she unbuckled her seat belt and crawled into the back seat. Two other men joined Filiczkowski in the water, but the car doors were stuck. They somehow managed to open the rear hatch, and Filiczkowski carried the girl to his wife.
The car quickly sunk in the dark water. The three men then worked to free the girl’s father, who was held in by a seat belt. One of the men found a pocketknife on shore and used it to cut part of the seat belt; Filiczkowski cut the remainder, but the man’s legs remained lodged under the steering column.
One rescuer freed one of the man’s legs, and Filiczkowski dislodged the other. After 10 minutes, the truck driver finally pulled the father from the car and swam to shore, but it was too late. The Worthington MN physician had died.
•Tower, a driver for Earl Bryant Trucking, which is based in Happy Camp CA, was heading home Sept. 19, 2007, on Highway 96 near Horse Creek CA, when a westbound car left the roadway and landed in the swift Klamath River.
Tower said he jumped from his rig and yelled to another man who stopped behind him to call for help. The trucker ran down to the river and saw that the car was moving downstream. An 82-year-old woman was screaming for help, and Tower jumped into the river and swam to the car.
Fighting a strong current, he struggled to open the car door and pull the woman out as the water rushed into her car. She went under a few times, but Tower was able to carry her as he swam. He was tiring quickly, but the man who had stopped behind him was on shore and ready to help with a rope.
Both men made the woman comfortable as they waited for help to arrive. Fortunately, the woman only suffered a broken ankle and slight hypothermia.
•Virgoe, a driver for Wilburn Archer Trucking, based in Norwood, Ontario, swerved his empty tanker truck to avoid three cars weaving in and out of traffic June 18, 2007, on Highway 400 near Bradford, Ontario.
Cut off by one of the street-racing cars, Virgoe had to drive his truck into the median guardrail, and then he made a split-second decision. Rather than allow his truck to slam into oncoming traffic across the median, he swerved to the right, crossed the highway, and drove into a ditch along the right side of the road.
An air ambulance was called, but Virgoe died before he could be transported.
Three men were arrested for dangerous driving resulting in death. Virgoe is survived by his wife Debbie, three children, and five grandchildren.
•Greene, a driver for A. Passmore & Sons of Altus OK, and fellow driver Brian Peterson were en route April 27, 2997, to Albuquerque on U.S. 84 near Espanola NM, when they saw a pregnant woman attacked and run over by a pickup truck.
The woman’s boyfriend, who had beaten her earlier at their home, reportedly tried to pull her into his truck before hitting her with the vehicle’s door and running over her legs and pelvis. Greene, a former firefighter and paramedic, ran to the injured woman and helped her stand.
The boyfriend wheeled around and tried to run over the woman and Greene, who pushed her between his truck and trailer, shielding her with his body. The enraged man tried three more times to run over Greene and the woman.
On the final attempt, the pickup truck struck Michael Rutkowski, a Medanales NM engineer from Los Alamos National Laboratory who also had left his vehicle to help. When the pickup left the area, Greene placed the woman in his truck cab with Peterson, and then he went to help Rutkowski, who died with the truck driver at his side.
Journalists from the trucking industry are voting on the four finalists, who will be featured March 27 at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville KY. One driver will be named the 2007 Goodyear North America Highway Hero at the Truck Writers of North America annual banquet and receive a $10,000 U.S. Savings Bond, a plaque, and a specially designed ring. The other finalists will receive a $5,000 U.S. Savings Bond and plaque.
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