Robert Sutton, who drives for ABF Freight System of Fort Smith, Ark., has been honored as a Highway Angel by the Truckload Carriers Association for helping a family of four involved in a bad accident.
On December 13, 2013, Sutton was headed eastbound about 4 a.m. on I-84 near Pendleton, Oregon, when a family of four in a pickup truck hauling a rented trailer passed him. It was only 14 degrees and extremely icy. After passing Sutton and going another quarter of a mile, the father, who was driving, lost control on some black ice and spun around, causing the pickup to roll several times across the road to the shoulder, coming to a stop on its roof.
Sutton continued about 800 feet past the wreck in order to come to a safe stop. Putting on his jacket and grabbing his flashlight, he ran along the dirt shoulder to get back to the family. He could see that the pickup was smoking and feared that it might catch on fire. As he got closer, he was stunned to nearly trip on something lying in the snow—a little girl.
Sutton wrapped the girl in his jacket and placed her near him so she would not be exposed to the highway. With the pickup upside down on its crushed roof, the only access point to the victims was the passenger window. Sutton began digging snow away from the window to allow more room to pull the father, mother, and sister out. Everyone was dazed and bleeding, but capable of getting out of the pickup with Sutton’s help.
Sutton immediately took the shivering family to his warm truck and called 911. While waiting for the ambulance to arrive, he realized that the amount of smoke coming from the vehicle had died down, so he suggested it might be safe to collect some of the family’s belongings. He gave the father his jacket to wear since he was clad only in a thin T-shirt, while Sutton braved the cold in the only other “warm” clothing he had in his truck—a sweatshirt. Together, they retrieved the wife’s purse, a diaper bag, and other items that would be needed when they got to the hospital. Later, Sutton told the father he could keep the jacket.
Although Sutton had not provided his name, someone from the family discovered whom he worked for and called ABF to express gratitude. The individual noted that if it weren’t for Sutton, the victims could have sustained worse injuries from exposure to the frigid temperature.
Sutton, who has been driving for more than 34 years, was the Idaho Trucking Association’s Driver of the Year for 2013. He has also won several truck driving championships on the state and national levels and is a member of ABF’s Road Team, a group of 12 professional drivers who represent the company at events where safety skills and road knowledge can be shared with the general public.
When asked about the incident, Sutton says that he was the only one to stop and help. “I’m a firm believer that it’s our duty as professional truck drivers to help and assist the motoring public if they have an emergency,” he said. “I truly believe that in my heart.”
As TCA’s latest Highway Angel, Sutton has been presented with a certificate, patch, and lapel pin. ABF Freight System, Inc. also received a certificate acknowledging that one of its drivers is a Highway Angel.