How an Oregon trucker got lost and what we can learn from it

May 2, 2018

Mark Schremmer


An innocent mistake endangered the life of an Oregon trucker.

Hauling a load of potato chips from Portland, Ore., to Nyssa, Ore., on Tuesday, April 24, Jacob Cartwright, a 22-year-old truck driver for Little Trees Transportation, entered the wrong address in his GPS. He eventually became stranded and then walked through the Oregon wilderness until he reached safety almost four days later.

Cartwright, who was recovering in the hospital a couple days after the incident, made it through the experience relatively unscathed and, in the process, learned a lesson he’ll never forget.

According to Little Trees Transportation owner Roy Henry, Cartwright entered the wrong address in his GPS navigation system when he left Portland for Nyssa, which is about 400 miles away on the Idaho border.

“That put him on 395 South,” Henry told Land Line Now. “After about 50 miles, he realized what he had done and corrected his mistake but little to his knowledge or expectation, the GPS saw a route that was weight restricted and doesn’t really exist, and it turned him on to a forest service road. That forest service road starts out real nice – good clean blacktop – but after about 8 miles it just goes to pot. Then he realized again he was on the wrong road. He couldn’t find a place to turn around and made a decision to go up a gravel road. He drove up that gravel road for 9 miles, found snow, spun out of control and got stuck.”

Without phone service available, Cartwright left his truck shortly after midnight on Wednesday, April 25, and started walking toward the direction he had come. The Oregon trucker started this nearly 40-mile hike through snow-covered hills in cowboy boots and without any food or water. Temperatures were reportedly falling into the 30s at night. A map of Cartwright’s journey can be found here: Oregon trucker map.

On Saturday, April 28, Cartwright nearly reached his hometown of La Grande, Ore., when a motorist drove him to his home. His wife then took him to the hospital.

Although he injured his foot, the result could have been much worse.

“He said ‘Oh no. That’s the load. I’m not touching the load. That would have been stealing.’ I applaud his honor and integrity,” Henry said.

While some on social media have echoed Henry’s thoughts about Cartwright’s integrity, others have used this event as an opportunity to criticize the young driver for his mistake.

Henry was quick to defend Cartwright and said he will return to Little Trees Transportation when he’s healthy enough to do so.

“He’s only lived in this area six months. Out of that six months, he was on the road almost all the time. He’s never had any time to explore those hills. It was in the middle of the night, pitch black out there. Yeah, he made bad decisions, but they are decisions that any other driver could have made. For those people who say ‘I would have never done that,’ you don’t know what he was experiencing. You don’t know what was going on in the truck, and you can’t make that judgment call.”

There are plenty of lessons to be learned.

  • GPS isn’t perfect.
  • An old-school map can come in handy.
  • Leaving the safety of the truck to take a trek through an unfamiliar path in the middle of the night isn’t the best idea.
  • Truck drivers need to be trained about what they should do in case they become stranded.

But there is no need to take shots at the young driver. He made a mistake. He admitted it, and being professional means so much to him that he was willing to go hungry rather than take a single bag of chips from the load.

“He’s a young man,” Henry said. “He’s 22 years old. He’ll turn 23 in May. I remember what it was like to be a young driver struggling to find a job and be able to get the experience to become old and wise like I am. I’ve been driving 17 years. I know a lot of things that he hasn’t learned yet. We’ll use this as a learning experience, not just for him but for me as well.

“There are things I learned from this experience that I will use to change my business. We’re going to be creating survival packs and putting them in the trucks. We’re going to be talking to drivers, telling them that if something like this happens to them to not leave the truck. Stay with the truck. Someone will find you. He could have very easily got hypothermia and died out there.”

Henry believes Cartwright still has a bright future as a truck driver.

“He’s owned up to his mistake, and those are teachable moments. I see the potential in him to be an outstanding truck driver and a professional, not just a steering wheel holder. You have a bunch of guys who are just steering wheel holders. He’s going to be a driver.”

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 more than two decades of journalism experience to our staff.