Tilden Curl honored as 2010 Goodyear Highway Hero
Founded by Goodyear in 1983, the Highway Hero program recognizes professional truck drivers and the often unnoticed life-saving rescues and roadside assistance.

By Sandi Soendker, managing editor

“I remember looking at the oncoming train through the windshield,” said Tilden Curl. The OOIDA member was honored in Louisville a month ago for helping save the lives of two people in a car that had come to a stop on railroad tracks as a train came rushing down on it.

Curl said, “You don’t realize how big a train is until you see it from that perspective.”

From among four finalists, Curl accepted the 2010 Goodyear North America Highway Hero award at the Truck Writers of North America awards event during the Mid-America Trucking Show, March 30. He was awarded a $10,000 U.S. Savings Bond.

Curl, an independent trucker from Olympia, WA, relaxed the next morning, ready to enjoy MATS. Goodyear started the day with a tour of the Louisville Slugger bat factory and museum for Curl, the other three finalists and their families. Each took time to talk to OOIDA media about the incidents for which they were honored in the 28th annual Goodyear North America Highway Hero program.

As for Curl, he was glad to have been able to assist – but primarily it’s meaningful to him that his wife, Leslie, his children – and in the future, his grandchildren – will have something to proudly remember him by.

Curl recounted his story. Just after noon on Oct. 27, 2010, Curl was driving southbound on Highway 99 near Tulare, CA, when a vehicle appeared to lose control and cross traffic, leaving the highway and finally coming to a stop with its front wheels lodged over the railroad tracks that run parallel to the highway.

While getting his truck stopped to check on the car, Curl noticed a train was coming. An elderly woman, obviously disoriented, got out of the passenger side of the car, and Curl yelled for her to get clear of the tracks. The engineer of the train was blowing on the horn.

“He knew he was going to hit the car,” said Curl, “because it was obvious that was going to happen.”

Curl ran without hesitation to the driver’s side of the car. And then he did what he called “the next right thing.”

“The driver was unresponsive and trapped inside,” said Curl. “At first, I couldn’t get the door open because of the automatic locks but he had a bit of the window down and I was able to get my arm in there and unlock it. I was able to unfasten the guy’s seat belt and drag him out of the car and away from the area.”

He watched in shock as the train collided with the stranded vehicle.

Of the three other truck drivers selected as finalists, Curl says “each one was every bit as deserving as me. Today, I really am walking among heroes.”

The tour of the bat factory was also an entertaining family event for the other three finalists, including a driver from Nebraska, one from Texas, and one owner-operator from Florida.

Bill Howard, of Litchfield, NE, is also an OOIDA member. He was driving at the time for Howard Transportation. As Howard drove on Highway 2 near Ravenna, NE, on May 22, 2010, a car crossed the center line and struck his rig, which included a grain trailer. Howard stopped his truck and ran back to the car to find a badly injured driver.

“Her arm was nearly severed; she had two broken legs and injuries to her face and head,” he said. Keeping his cool, Howard was able to call for emergency assistance and her life was saved.

Jaime “Tony” Avitia, of El Paso, TX, is a driver for Stagecoach Cartage. Early in the morning of Aug. 31, 2010, Avitia was driving on I-10 on his way to a company facility in Laredo, TX. 

“I noticed a pickup truck driving at high speed and then it suddenly left the roadway, hit a concrete drainage culvert nose-first, flipped into the air and landed upright,” said Avitia.

He quickly stopped his truck, grabbed a flashlight and first-aid kit, and scrambled down the embankment toward the truck. He then realized the driver – not wearing a seat belt – had been thrown into the back seat of the crew cab. Unable to find a pulse, Avitia was able to kneel on the front seat, squeeze between the arm rests and administer CPR on the man.

“I told my wife Terry, in the films on CPR, everyone is laid out flat and you have plenty of working space. That was not the way it was. But after four chest compressions, he finally coughed and began to breathe.”

David Nelson, of Orlando, FL, is an owner-operator leased to Werner Enterprises out of Omaha.

On Feb. 2, 2010, while driving on I-20 near Birmingham, AL, Nelson was flagged down by a woman who had just lost control of her vehicle and hit a road sign.

“I pulled over,” he said. “It seemed that no one else was willing to help. She was saying, ‘My daughter is dead!’”

The woman’s 7-year-old daughter had been injured and was not breathing. To make matters more intense, he learned the child had a previous heart condition. A certified EMT for 25 years, Nelson placed the girl on the ground and performed CPR until emergency personnel arrived. LL

Land Line Now Reporter Reed Black contributed to this story.