Alexandria, Virginia

Cliff and Wanda Humphrey, team drivers for Prime, Inc., of Springfield, Missouri, have been named Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) Highway Angels for stopping to help at the scene of a horrific accident.

It was mid-morning on July 19, 2010, and the Humphreys were discussing where they should have breakfast as they drove eastbound on I-40 through rural New Mexico. As they approached Exit 243, they heard the unmistakable bang of a forceful collision and saw a huge fireball and smoke where the overpass crosses the interstate. A passenger car, which had been the rear escort vehicle for a convoy moving the body of a huge, wind-powered generator, had been hit by a van and shot out of the cloud — on fire —into the left lane.

Stopping their truck about 200 feet from the crash, Wanda called 911 while Cliff grabbed a fire extinguisher and began spraying the flames. An unidentified man approached from an unknown location with another fire extinguisher, but it gave out after only a few seconds, and the man left the scene.
Meanwhile, the driver from the lead escort vehicle ran down the embankment yelling that his wife and son were inside the burning car. He ran to the driver’s door and tried to open it, but the impact of the collision had crumpled the rear of the car and warped the center post, hopelessly jamming the door. He screamed to his wife to “Get out, get out!” The wife was in the driver’s seat, unresponsive and slumped to her right with her head in the center armrest. The son was in the back seat.

Cliff joined the man in trying to force the doors open, but to no avail. By now, his fire extinguisher was exhausted, and the whole interior of the vehicle was aflame. At some point during the ordeal, the car’s occupants must have revived because some movement was detected inside. Cliff and the man stood about two feet from the car, trying to reach through the window to get to the woman’s seatbelt, but the heat and flames were too intense and kept driving them back. The husband repeatedly grabbed the scorching edge of the door, but could not pry it open. Although two or three vehicles stopped and several people were spotted watching from a distance, no one helped, and eventually everyone but the Humphreys left the scene.

Tragically, because of the remote location of the accident, the police did not arrive until 30-45 minutes after the 911 call was placed. The fire trucks and paramedics took even longer. There was nothing the Humphreys could do except watch helplessly as the wife and son perished in the fire in front of the desperate husband and father.

“In this business, I accept the fact that there are going to be accidents and that I might get involved with them sometimes,” said Cliff Humphrey, a seasoned truck driver who has helped many people during his 37 years on the road. “But this was truly the worst thing I’ve ever seen. I felt so helpless because there was nothing I could do. If I could have climbed through the window to save those people, I would have.”

The Humphrey’s story does not end there. While Cliff, Wanda and the man dealt with the horrors taking place in front of them, they began to notice some popping sounds. There had been a gun in the car, and now bullets were ricocheting around them; the tires were also exploding, and the horn and emergency lights were turning on and off as the car’s systems failed. Despite this chaos, Wanda, who was standing a few feet away, had the presence of mind to notice that both Cliff and the man (who was in shock by this point) were standing in pools of burning gasoline from the ruptured gas tank. Cliff took the man’s arm and was maneuvering him away from the car when Wanda yelled out that the man’s slacks were on fire. Cliff and Wanda instinctively scooped up handfuls of dirt from the shoulder of the road to smother the flames. The man suffered serious burns on his legs, but survived. If Wanda had not spoken up, it is possible that all of his clothes could have caught on fire, he might have lost his leg, or worse.

“The Humphreys could have left the scene like everyone else, but they chose to stay and help when no one else bothered,” said John Kaburick, TCA chairman and the president of Earl L. Henderson Trucking Company, Salem, Illinois. “TCA applauds their strong moral values and is delighted to bestow Highway Angel status upon this brave husband and wife driver team.”

Since the program’s inception in August 1997, hundreds of drivers have been recognized as Highway Angels for the exemplary kindness, courtesy, and courage they have displayed while on the job.