Dupré Logistics driver Fernandez Garner doesn’t consider what he did heroic, but the Truckload Carriers Association sees things differently.
About 3:30 pm June 17, 2017, Garner, a 55-year-old New Orleans LA native who now lives in Humble TX was driving toward Dallas TX on I-45 N. He remembers that he was just before mile marker 171, following an SUV, when suddenly a tanker cut in front of him. The SUV swerved and flipped several times, ultimately rolling down a hill into a tree.
“The tanker locked his brakes, and I had room to go around him on the left side,” Garner said. “As soon as I switched lanes, that’s when I saw the little girl in the middle of the roadway.”
Garner, a military veteran who has been driving for Dupré for nearly 14 years, locked his brakes in an attempt to block traffic and protect the little girl in the middle of the roadway.
“I didn’t want anyone to go around me and run over her,” he said.
Another driver stopped and got the child out of the road as Garner ran down the hill to check on the people in the SUV. Remarkably, the child (who had been thrown from a rear window of the vehicle) was unhurt.
“Not a scratch on her,” Garner said. “Once I saw she was OK, I ran down the hill because I didn’t want to take a chance on the SUV catching fire. When I ran down the hill, I saw two little girls and an older boy, about 14. They were starting to crawl out of the SUV.”
Another driver stopped and yelled to Garner to send the children up to her. The children appeared to be unharmed, so he sent them up the hill.
The mother in the passenger seat yelled that her leg was broken. The roof of the SUV was pressed down on the driver’s head, and he was stuck behind the wheel, with a serious head wound and seemingly dead.
“But there was also a baby screaming in the back of the vehicle. I could see that she had blood on her. I was able to get to the baby and couldn’t find any cuts on her,” he said. “I got the baby out and was trying to comfort her and get to the mom. I told the mom that I needed her to calm down, and not look in the direction of the driver. I told her the baby was upset but OK.”
When he finally calmed the mother and handed her the infant, they both stopped crying.
At that point, the father/driver, began to move and forced himself out of the SUV, stumbling and disoriented and yelling for his family. A nurse who had been passing by also arrived to assist with the injured. Garner let the parents know and see that all their children were OK and accounted for--including the daughter who had been thrown from the car. The ambulances began arriving and doing their job.
Garner went back to his truck, called dispatch and asked them to let his next delivery appointment know that he was running a little late. He didn’t say a word about what had happened at the time.
“I just got back in my truck and kept working,” said Garner, a father of five. “I’m trained to deal with any type of situation. I thought about it the rest of the day, but it didn’t affect my job. I don’t feel like it was anything special. It was just a natural instinct for me. I try to be a good person.”
The Truckload Carriers Association has named Garner a Highway Angel for his good deeds and efforts in assisting the family. The Highway Angel program is an ongoing effort to help recognize driver professionalism and to elevate the public’s awareness of and appreciation for outstanding drivers in the trucking industry.
"We are proud that the Truckload Carriers Association has recognized Fernandez for taking action on his natural instinct to help others,” said Reggie Dupré, president and chief executive officer. “Safety is a priority for Dupré Logistics," "This driver's quick thinking represents our company's forward-thinking approach to making the roads safer for everyone. We wish the family involved in the accident our very best wherever they are and are glad Fernandez was there in their time of need."
When looking back on the day, Garner has only one regret.
“I don’t know how they’re doing,” he said. “I don’t know their names. The only thing I know about them is that I believe they were from Africa. I would love to know how they’re doing and if the dad is OK--if they’re all OK, but especially the father.”
Al LaCombe, Dupré Logistics’ vice-president of safety and risk management says that he’s grateful for Garner’s instincts and quick decision to do the right thing. “At Dupré, we’re always forward thinking and look to hire the best possible drivers--drivers like Fernandez who not only looks after his own safety, but looks after others too.”