‘Fear was not an option’

OOIDA members win Highway Angel of the Year award for saving trapped motorist moments before vehicle exploded.

May 2020

Mark Schremmer

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As they rushed to help rescue a man from a car that was engulfed in flames, Ed and Tracy Zimmerman said they didn’t have time to think about the risks.

“There was no thought about it,” Ed Zimmerman said. “I was in medical corps in Army, so there were no thoughts. It was just do. Fear was not an option. We knew this guy was trapped in the car. We knew we had get him out, because no one else was around to do it.”

The Zimmermans, who are both OOIDA members, rescued the man from his vehicle moments before it exploded.

“It was the first time I’d seen a car explode other than something they’d do in Hollywood,” Ed said. “It was very unnerving. Stuff was flying everywhere.”

In addition to saving a man’s life, the Zimmermans received the Highway Angel of the Year award during the Truckload Carriers Association’s annual meeting on March 3 in Kissimmee, Fla. The Zimmermans are a husband and wife driving team for Hirschbach Motor Lines in Dubuque, Iowa.

Vehicle on fire

On the morning of May 25, the Zimmermans were traveling on Interstate 77 near Beckley, W.Va., when they came around a curve and noticed a UPS vehicle and another vehicle stopped, according to a news release from the Truckload Carriers Association. Looking farther ahead, Tracy, who was driving, spotted another vehicle upside down in a ditch and on fire.

“As I came around the curve, I could see the smoke,” Tracy said. “They told me that a car was on fire and someone was trapped. I stopped and put my hazards on and then started beating on the truck to wake my husband up.”

After Ed woke up, he grabbed the truck’s fire extinguisher, and they hurried to the vehicle.

They joined an off-duty firefighter who also stopped. As one bystander used the fire extinguisher to keep the flames back, another motorist used a crowbar to smash the passenger-side window. The trapped man was conscious and told them his leg was stuck.

Ed and Tracy worked with two others to pull the trapped motorist from the vehicle. The man then told them there was a gun and ammunition in the vehicle, and they all moved from the vehicle quickly. Moments later, the vehicle exploded and sent glass and metal flying.

The trapped driver was seriously hurt, but the Zimmermans later saw a newspaper article that said he was expected to survive.

“It was a surreal, incredible, life-changing moment,” Tracy told TCA. “God puts us where he needs us the most. Two more minutes and that man would have burned alive.”

Highway Angel program

The Highway Angel program, which is in its 23rd year, recognizes professional truck drivers who have selflessly helped others while on the job.

As part of the award, the Zimmermans received a crystal trophy as well as an EpicVue satellite TV package that includes a 24-inch flat-screen TV, a DVR, and a one-year subscription to more than 100 channels of DirecTV programming, including HBO, Cinemax, Showtime and NFL Sunday Ticket.

“It’s nothing short of a miracle that we were even there at that time,” Tracy said. “We picked up our load eight hours early that day. We’re firm believers in the power of prayer and believe God will put you where he needs you the most. At that time, that’s where we needed to be.” LL

Mark Schremmer

Mark Schremmer, senior editor, joined Land Line in 2015. An award-winning journalist and former assistant news editor at The Topeka Capital-Journal, he brings fresh ideas, solid reporting skills, and nearly two decades of journalism experience to our staff.