When professional truck driver Zach Yeakley arrived on the scene of a fire-filled, chain-reaction crash, he immediately pulled over and jumped into action. His life-saving response has been recognized by the Truckload Carriers Association, which named him the 2022 Highway Angel of the Year.
On March 17, 2022, around 8:15 a.m., Yeakley, a driver with Joplin, Missouri-based CFI, 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. Then he saw smoke and a man wearing a safety vest flagging down drivers to alert them to the accident.
More than 45 vehicles had piled into each other in a chain reaction in dense fog. 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.
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.
Yeakley, from Batesville, Arkansas, was formally recognized during TCA’s Annual Convention, Truckload 2023: Orlando, after being selected through a public vote.
“Thank you for your selfless act of courage that morning,” said Lance Platt, CEO of award sponsor EpicVue, presenting Yeakley with a personalized crystal truck. He also will receive a complimentary EpicVue satellite TV package that includes a 24-inch flatscreen TV, a DVR, and a one-year subscription to over 100 channels of DirecTV programming.
Since 1997, TCA’s Highway Angel program has recognized professional truck drivers who have selflessly helped others while on the job. From each year’s recipients, one is selected as Highway Angel of the Year because he or she best embodies the spirit of the program.
Watch Yeakley talk about his experience in this CFI video: