Alexandria, Virginia

The Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) is pleased to honor owner-operator team drivers Irene and Dennis Howard as Highway Angels for acting quickly when a fellow motorist fell asleep at the wheel.

It was August 4, 2009, and the Howards were hauling a load for Landstar Ranger near Hydro, Oklahoma.  Irene was driving in the westbound lanes when she noticed a pick-up truck traveling eastbound start to fishtail and then straighten out.  The pick-up fishtailed again and then crossed the median and headed straight toward the Howards—and their tractor, which was filled with explosives.

The Howards, who have seven years of experience hauling explosives and 13 total years as professional truck drivers, made quick mental calculations.  With their truck and tractor measuring about 70 feet long and the speed at which the pick-up was barreling full force toward them, it seemed inevitable that the pick-up would ram into them if Irene braked.  At the same time, both drivers realized that speeding up was the only option. Both shouted “floor it!” at the same time, and Irene did.  Sure enough, the tactic worked, even though for a few moments the Howards were under the impression that they had been hit.

In reality, the pick-up had narrowly missed their trailer, but struck a cable barrier, went airborne, overturned, hit the pavement, and broke into several pieces.

“My rule is to get explosives at least 300 feet away from any accident, so I drove to a safe distance as fast as I could,” said Irene.  “I’ve always been a defensive driver. You just never know what you’re going to encounter out there.”

Irene’s quick actions came just in time, because the pick-up burst into flames almost immediately.

While Irene was repositioning the explosives away from the accident and calling emergency personnel, Dennis jumped out of the truck and joined several other motorists in extracting the couple inside the pick-up from their burning vehicle.  The driver was in shock and later admitted that he had fallen asleep at the wheel.

During the commotion, many of the driver’s important papers had flown out of the pick-up’s windows; landing all over the highway, so Irene and Dennis even had the presence of mind to collect his papers for him.

The Howards stayed on the scene until police and fire rescue arrived. Because of their quick thinking, Landstar later awarded them with its Platinum Star of Quality Award.

“This accident was bad, but I can only imagine how much worse it would have been if those explosives had caught fire,” said Chris Burruss, TCA’s president. “We applaud Irene’s ability to maneuver her vehicle and Dennis’ heroism in assisting the injured motorists.  Without them, that accident could easily have turned fatal.”

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.