If there were still dry eyes in the audience after hearing about the heroic acts of the four finalists in the 2007 Goodyear North American Highway Hero awards, they likely welled up when 9-year-old Abby Bern stepped onto the stage.
At the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., husband-and-wife team drivers Richard and Janet Filiczkowski were accepting the top honor night when Abby – the little girl they helped save from drowning in an icy South Dakota pond off Interstate 90 – made a surprise appearance.
Accompanied by her mother, Marty Bern, Abby helped present Richard with the Highway Hero honorary ring. The four embraced and wept.
In April last year, the Filiczkowskis were navigating their C.R. England truck down I-90, about 100 miles west of Sioux Falls, with Janet at the wheel and Richard asleep in the bunk. Janet saw a car veer off the road and into a pond. The couple responded.
“I just dove right in because I saw Abby pounding on the car’s back window,” recounted Richard. “My only instinct was to get her out of the car as soon as possible. In situations like that, seconds count.”
Also in the vehicle, submerged in about eight feet of water, was Abby’s father, Dr. Jeff Bern. Richard was joined in the rescue effort by two other passers-by, and while the car doors were stuck, they were able to open the rear hatch. Abby was freed and brought to the shore, where Janet tended to her while the men worked to free Dr. Bern. After cutting the seatbelts and freeing him from the steering column, the rescuers brought Dr. Bern to shore – but he did not survive.
The Filiczkowskis’ heroics earned them the name “Abby’s Angels.” The couple attended Dr. Bern’s funeral at his wife’s invitation.
This was the 25th anniversary of Goodyear’s Highway Hero program. The other 2007 finalists included:
“Richard and Janet Filiczkowski and the three other Highway Hero finalists are all heroes in our book,” said Donn Kramer, director of marketing for Goodyear Commercial Truck Tire Systems. “Their families and friends should find comfort in knowing they helped others without regard for their own lives.”