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Truck driver honored for preventing potentially deadly crash

It happened on a partially washed-out bridge on a rainy night

(Photo: Jim Allen/Freightwaves, TCA)

The Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) recently honored professional driver Morgan Kirkland for his skill and quick thinking in preventing a potentially deadly head-on collision.

In late September, Kirkland was hauling methanol in his tanker, heading east on U.S. Highway 90 in Florida. Light rain was coming down when he crossed a bridge between Pensacola and Pace at around 2 a.m. Only one of the two eastbound lanes was usable because Hurricane Sally had washed out the other lane about two weeks earlier.

“There was usually a DOT person standing there, monitoring the sides of the road so that no one would use them,” Kirkland told TCA.

He noticed a set of lights in front of him, but the rain was distorting them. At first, Kirkland thought it was the DOT person on patrol.

“Before I knew it, the lights swerved, and I realized it was actually a car on the wrong side of the road coming at me full speed,” Kirkland recalled. “I couldn’t tell exactly where he was until the last few seconds.”

Kirkland had nowhere to go and had a line of cars behind him. “I knew that if I moved to the side of the road, those behind me would have been killed. They wouldn’t have known what was coming,” Kirkland added.

Morgan Kirkland, Groendyke Transport (Photo: TCA)

All he could do was slow down and get everyone to move over. “I was able to get a third of my rig into the bad lane, but unfortunately, it resulted in me pinning a vehicle between the bridge wall and the back end of my highly explosive trailer,” Kirkland explained.

He couldn’t avoid a collision altogether but narrowly escaped a head-on crash. The oncoming vehicle, a Jeep, hit Kirkland’s trailer. “It ripped the entire axle out from under my trailer and just missed my tractor,” Kirkland said. “It scraped along the side of the tank and took out the rear end of the trailer.”

Kirkland carefully got out and approached the Jeep. The driver was conscious. Kirkland told him he was hauling methanol, which is very volatile, and instructed the man not to open his door because it could create a spark. Kirkland said help arrived quickly, and first responders immediately evacuated everyone. The driver of the Jeep was cited for DUI and driving in the wrong direction.

“My worst fear almost came true, that I would die in this truck. What I do for a living scares me to death,” Kirkland stated. “I’ve got six beautiful children ranging from 21 to 5 years old. I’ve got a loving wife. I thank God for the speedy recovery of the vehicle and emergency management getting there so quickly.”

TCA gave Kirkland a certificate, patch, lapel pin and truck decals, naming him a Highway Angel. His employer, Groendyke Transport, has also received a certificate acknowledging Kirkland’s actions.

Since the program’s inception in August 1997, nearly 1,300 professional truck drivers have been recognized as Highway Angels for their exemplary kindness, courtesy and courage on the job. The program is made possible by Presenting Sponsor EpicVue and Supporting Sponsor DriverFacts.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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Nick Austin

Nick is a meteorologist with 20 years of forecasting and broadcasting experience. He was nominated for a Midsouth Emmy for his coverage during a 2008 western Tennessee tornado outbreak. He received his Bachelor of Science in Meteorology from Florida State University, as well as a Bachelor of Science in Management from the Georgia Tech. Nick is a member of the American Meteorological Society and National Weather Association. As a member of the weather team at WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tennessee, Nick was nominated for a Mid-South Emmy for live coverage of a major tornado outbreak in February 2008. As part of the weather team at WRCB-TV in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Nick shared the Chattanooga Times-Free Press Best of the Best award for “Best Weather Team” eight consecutive years.