Unisource driver named TCA’s 2008 Highway Angel of the Year

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The Truckload Carriers Association has recognized Unisource driver Leonard T. “Lenny” Roach of Villa Park, Ill., as its 2008 Highway Angel of the Year. Roach will be honored during this year’s Humanitarian Bowl, which will be broadcast live on ESPN. The event will take place on Dec. 30 at 4:30 p.m. ET.

Roach was recognized as a Highway Angel in October for pulling a motorist out of a car filling with water despite the risks to his own life. The incident took place just after 5 a.m. on Feb. 19. Roach was driving his regular truck route along Interstate 94 near South Bend, Ind., being careful because the wind chill factor was -20 degrees Fahrenheit that day, and icy road conditions were causing numerous accidents.

Suddenly, he saw the car in front of him hit a patch of black ice. The car veered off the roadway and down an embankment, rolling several times before landing upside down in a water-filled ditch. The driver, Ernesto R. Soto, 49, was not injured from the crash. However, his car quickly filled with water, and he was hanging upside down from his seatbelt. Soto managed to undo the belt and crawl into the back seat, where he temporarily found a pocket of air to breathe.

Meanwhile, Roach stopped his truck and ran down the embankment. He attempted to open one of the car’s doors, but could not, so went around to the other side and forced open the other door. With freezing cold water already up to his shoulders, Roach extracted the driver, carried him back up the hill and put him into his warm cab, where they waited for almost two hours before emergency rescue personnel could arrive from tending to other accidents.

In the past, Roach had helped other motorists with things like fixing flat tires, but never before had been involved with a rescue of this magnitude. “It’s just what you’ve got to do,” he said. Roach received a Highway Angel lapel pin, certificate and patch for his efforts. Unisource, based in Addison, Ill., also received a certificate acknowledging that one of its drivers is a Highway Angel.

Since its inception in August 1997, the Highway Angels program has recognized hundreds of drivers for the unusual kindness, courtesy and courage they have shown others while on the job. TCA has received letters and e-mails from people across North America nominating truck drivers for the program.