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Trucker named Highway Angel for helping tornado victim

The Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) has named Charles Bearden, from Etowah, Tennessee, a Highway Angel for stopping to help another truck driver whose tractor-trailer was thrown into a field by a tornado.

The evening of Dec. 10, 2021, is one many people won’t forget for the string of devastating tornadoes that struck the South and Midwest. Bearden had picked up a load in Jackson, Tennessee, that day and was heading west on Interstate 155 near the Tennessee-Missouri border.

“It had been cloudy all day and now there was bad lightning and the wind was starting to pick up,” Bearden told the TCA. “The more I proceeded west, the worse it got.”

As Bearden crossed the Mississippi River into Missouri and merged onto Interstate 55 northbound from I-155, a major weather alert shot across his phone.

“It said to stop and find shelter immediately — imminent danger, tornado on the ground,” Bearden recalled.

Each time lightning lit up the sky, he could see the tornado sweeping across farm fields.

“When I was on top of the bridge, I saw that bad boy. It was a big one,” Bearden added. “The cloud the funnel was in was so big you couldn’t tell it was a tornado. On the ground it was probably the size of a football field.”

Bearden watched as the tornado streaked across the sky and zigzagged until he lost sight of it. As the wind died down, Bearden continued on his way. Then, as he glanced at the open farm fields, he saw a tractor-trailer lying on its side 350 feet from the road.

Beardon pulled over, rushed toward the truck and quickly called 911.

“That guy’s lucky to be alive,” Bearden told FreightWaves about the driver. “It picked that truck straight up and the truck was power-slammed into the side of the field on its right side, tipped over.”

Bearden also said the driver told him the wind exploded the passenger window, sucking his phone and other items out of the truck.

The driver’s phone was found several hundred feet away. Although the truck driver was dazed, he was able to walk on his own and didn’t appear to be seriously injured.

When Bearden walked around the side of the truck, he saw the driver climbing out. He had to cut himself loose from the seatbelt and walk through the windshield to get out.

After making sure he was all right, Bearden tried to lighten the mood.

“I looked at him and said, ‘Well, there’s one good thing about this: You’re fixing to get yourself a brand new truck,” Bearden said.

Bearden recalled that the driver chuckled.

“This is the second time I’ve seen a tornado in that exact same spot,” Bearden said. The first time was a few years ago.

Bearden has been a trucker for decades and has been driving for Purdy Brothers Trucking for about seven years.

For helping the accident victim, the TCA gave Bearden a certificate, patches, lapel pin and truck decals. TCA also sent Purdy Brothers Trucking a letter acknowledging Bearden as a Highway Angel.

Since the program’s inception in August 1997, nearly 1,300 professional truck drivers have been recognized as Highway Angels for the exemplary kindness, courtesy and courage they have displayed on the job.

Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Nick Austin.

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