Alexandria, Virginia

The Truckload Carriers Association (TCA) recently recognized Brian “Brownie” Brown, of Eskridge, Kansas, as a Highway Angel for rescuing a woman trapped in a burning vehicle.

While traveling west on Highway 470 in Topeka, Kansas, Brown noticed an SUV about 300 yards ahead of him start to veer back and forth on the road. Suddenly, the vehicle took a hard right, flew off the road down an embankment, hitting trees in its path, until it crashed violently against some trees and burst into flames.

“I was caught in that moment when I wondered if I was going to sleep tonight if I didn’t stop,” said Brown. “I knew she was down there and no one else was around.”

Brown, who was driving a full fuel tanker, made sure he secured his rig safely off the road and put his flashers on before grabbing his fire extinguisher and running off to help. Another driver who had stopped yelled for Brown to call emergency on his cell phone. Brown said he remembered yelling back, “There’s no time for cell phones. Whoever’s in that car right now, we gotta get him out of there quick.”

Brown took off running, hoping the other driver would follow. After maneuvering through broken trees to get to the vehicle, Brown saw the female driver was unconscious, so he pounded on the passenger-side window, not knowing whether or not the woman was alive. Meanwhile flames engulfed the engine. Brown tried to “buy us some time” by using his extinguisher, “but every time I tried to extinguish the flames, they came back harder,” he said.

Fortunately, the other driver came to assist and while he pulled open the passenger door to try to remove the woman, Brown continued to attempt to extinguish the flames. Although she was conscious now, the woman couldn’t move her legs, making it difficult for the other gentleman to get her out alone. Brown finally threw down his extinguisher and went to help.

“That was the most terrifying part of it,” Brown said. “Flames were melting the metal, blowing fuel all over the hot exhaust. I smelled the fumes from the burned out plastic for two days after that.”

The two men quickly dragged the woman about 175 to 200 yards and then watched as the flames broke through the dash and enveloped the car. If we had sat down and made a phone call, she wouldn’t be here today,” Brown said.

Once the paramedics arrived, Brown gave them pertinent information and hurried back to his fuel tanker, which was located far enough from the scene but still was a concern to him. He knew, however, he had done the right thing in stopping.

“My wife was in a bad accident about a year ago, so when I saw that happen, I got goose bumps and I knew I had to help,” Brown said.

Brown received a Highway Angel lapel pin, certificate, and patch for his efforts, and his employer, United Petroleum Transports, also received a certificate for acknowledging a Highway Angel in their midst.

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.