Three truck drivers who performed heroically to help others in need have been named finalists in the Truckload Carriers Association's 2022 Highway Angel of the Year contest.
The winner will be recognized at TCA's Annual Convention, taking place March 4-7 at the Gaylord Palms in Kissimmee, Florida.
The three finalists and the companies they drive for are:
- Zach Yeakley, CFI
- Richard Schjoth, Cheema Freightlines, LLC
- Kyle Uhrich, Trans-System, Inc.
Here are their stories:
On March 17, 2022 around 8:15 a.m., Yeakley was driving to West Memphis, Arkansas and had just crossed the state border into Charleston, Missouri. He heard on his CB radio that there was an accident up ahead, and then he noticed smoke and a man wearing a safety vest flagging down drivers to alert them to the accident.
The scene was a fire-filled, chain-reaction crash in dense fog that involved more than 45 vehicles. Yeakley immediately pulled over and jumped into action. “I went up there; they already had a couple people out,” he recalled. “Some people had some broken arms, one had a collapsed lung, a few broken ribs from the impact.”
Yeakley, a 15-year member of the Army National Guard, is trained as a combat lifesaver and could quickly assess the severity of the scene. He surveyed the situation so he could tell the paramedics when they arrived. Fire was spreading in the crashed vehicles, and tires were exploding all around them, due to the fire.
“There was one guy trapped in his truck,” he said. “So me, a sheriff, a state trooper, and a FedEx driver, we did what we could to get him out.” Yeakley and the group were able to pry the dashboard off of another trapped crash victim and rescue him from his vehicle. The flames, he said, were surrounding them. Once the crash victim was rescued from his truck, Yeakley and a sheriff ran back to the scene to try to rescue the driver of a car trapped between a truck and a trailer, also surrounded by flames.
“By the time we got there, the fire had gotten into the car,” he said. “We watched him burn.”
In total that day, Yeakley helped rescue six crash victims from several vehicles. Police reported at least six fatalities from the fiery crash. Yeakley, who has been driving a truck for four years, said he wouldn’t hesitate to jump back into the fire again to rescue drivers, crediting his military training for preparing him for the experience.
Schjoth was driving north on Interstate 5 near Los Banos, CA, on Oct. 6, 2022, around 6:25 a.m., when he saw that a FedEX tractor-trailer had left the roadway, traveled down a steep, 75-foot embankment and rolled on its side. Schjoth pulled over on the shoulder, grabbed his flashlight, and immediately ran down the hill to render aid at the scene.
“I climbed the barbed wire fence and went out in the field where they were laying on their side,”Schjoth said. “I thought, God please let them be alive.”
He found the driver in the front of the cab and his co-driver in the sleeper area. The driver in the passenger area, who was operating the truck when it left the highway, reported pain in his ribs and a possible head injury.
The second driver in the sleeper berth had a head injury. Schjoth found a way to pull the windshield free from the truck, and assisted the driver in the passenger area by pulling him up through the open windshield, freeing him from the truck, then to a safe area away from the scene. He went back to the truck and pulled the other driver out.
“I got 9-1-1 on the phone,” he said, “and I said, I need two ambulances — one with a head injury and one with possible broken ribs.”
Back up at the highway, he used the strobe feature on his flashlight to try and get a truck or other vehicle to stop and help, but none did. When he returned to the crash site, Schjoth noticed three horses got loose where the truck had gone through their fence, so he ended up herding the horses back into their pasture three times while on the scene, keeping them from escaping up and onto the interstate.
When the California Highway Patrol officer arrived and Schjoth explained what he had done to help, the officer seemed surprised that he had done so much. The officer told him he could depart and that emergency personnel were on the way.
“We lucked out that they were alive — they lucked out,” Schjoth said. When asked why he went to the lengths he did to assist, he said, “That’s another truck driver down there — they’ve got families — I didn’t do anything special; I just did what needed to be done.”
On June 15, 2022, around 2:45 p.m. in Walla Walla County, Washington near Wallula Junction, Uhrich was stopped at the intersection of Dodd Road at Highway 12. He witnessed a pickup truck pulling a utility trailer with an industrial mower slam into the back of a tractor-trailer and catch fire.
“I was literally already on my way out the door with the fire extinguisher in hand,” Uhrich shared with TCA, when another pickup truck slammed into the back of the first crashed pickup truck.
Uhrich said the driver of the first pickup was able to exit his vehicle with hand and face injuries. Uhrich guided this injured driver to the side of the road away from the flaming truck. “That’s when I realized that the other car that had hit was also on fire,” Uhrich shared, so he used his fire extinguisher to extinguish both fires.
The driver of the second crashed vehicle, however, suffered significant injuries; both he and his passenger were thrown from the vehicle. Uhrich used the rest of his fire extinguisher to subdue flames near the second vehicle so he could get to the victims.
“I pulled him away from the vehicle,” recalled Uhrich. “I had to put him down because he was slippery because he was just covered in blood and I had to duck – there was ammunition in the car – as it caught fire they were popping off in the car.”
When asked why he takes such risks to help these drivers? “You live by a code – you’re taught to preserve life,” said Uhrich, sharing that this wasn’t ‘his first rodeo.’ Receiving medical training in the Norwegian Army when he was younger, he knows trucking can be dangerous and accidents happen. “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” he said.