Hijack survivor wins Back on the Road contest

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On an overcast, blustery day at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., the sun came out to greet Donald Turkelson of Battle Creek, Mich., moments before he was named the winner of Arrow Truck Sales’ Back on the Road 2008 contest, designed to help a deserving trucker in need of a job.

“Thank you kindly,” Turkelson told radio host Bill Mack upon learning he had won a 2005 Volvo VNL 670 tractor and a one-year work agreement with Heartland Express of North Liberty, Iowa, among other prizes.

A former chaplain, Turkelson retired from the U.S. Army at the rank of lieutenant colonel after 20 years’ service and became a trucker in January 1997, but his career as a company driver violently ended at 1:30 a.m. March 19, 2002, when he was shot in the left leg by a would-be hijacker in a company drop lot, just after hitching to a load of orange juice. The ski-mask-wearing assailant fled, and no one yet has been charged in the crime.

“I didn’t want him to have the control and the power to take my livelihood away from me,” Turkelson says of his assailant. But that’s just what happened, as Turkelson’s wound required surgery and extensive physical therapy. Since then, Turkelson has been a truck-driving instructor at Lansing Community College and pastored two small Methodist churches.

The father of two grown sons – Erik, an English teacher in Korea, and Stuart, an insurance agent in Washington, D.C. – Turkelson looks forward to taking his German shepherd, Shadow, back on the road with him. “I always wanted to be an owner-operator, but I just couldn’t get the numbers to work,” he says.

Besides the Heartland Express contract and the VNL 670 equipped with the Volvo Sentry satellite system, Michelin tires, Minimizer accessories and Dickinson Fleet Services detailing, Turkelson’s prizes include a three-year/300,000-mile warranty from National Truck Protection, a year’s membership in the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, a year’s business services from ATBS and a Dell laptop from Volvo.

Arrow spokeswoman Tricia Jaworski said a “substantial” number of truckers had entered the contest but declined to say how many. Mack said he had read a number of the contest entries: “Some are heartwarming, some are heartbreaking.”

“We are very excited to be able to make a difference for someone” by awarding “all the tools he will need to be successful during his first year back on the road,” said Carl Heikel, Arrow president and chief executive officer.

Volvo is happy “to spread a little cheer and goodwill around the industry,” said Matt Kelly, Volvo Trucks North America marketing director. “Everyone needs a little helping hand now and again, and at the end of the day, we’ll be one driver closer to ending the driver shortage gap.”

“Owner-operators are the backbone of the industry,” said Steve Feldman of Heartland Express. “They always have been, they always will be.”

Mack called Back on the Road 2008 “one of the most giving, thoughtful events of all my years in broadcasting.” Well-wishers can follow Turkelson’s progress throughout the year via Mack’s XM Satellite Radio show and the website http://backontheroad2008.com.