Clinton D. Blackburn of Winchester, Ky., and McKenzie McKay Guffey of Gainesboro, Tenn., are both truck drivers, were both on the road when they effected extraordinary acts of lifesaving within four months of each other, were named national highway heroes as two of the three finalists for the 32nd annual national Goodyear Highway Hero Award, and both had their heroic acts reviewed back-to-back by the Hero Fund when its executive committee met in late June 2015. Each was given a Carnegie Medal, the awards announced together.
Separately, Blackburn was named the Goodyear awardee for 2014 and Guffey was named a “Highway Angel” by the Truckload Carriers Association, a national trade group based in Alexandria, Va. Since its inception in August 1997, the Highway Angel program has recognized hundreds of professional truck drivers for unusual kindness, courtesy, and courage shown to others while on the job, the good deeds ranging from fixing a flat tire to heroic lifesaving efforts, such as pulling someone from a burning vehicle.
The latter is exactly what Guffey was cited for. A driver for Atlantic Bulk Carrier of Providence Forge, Va., he was northbound on Interstate 95 in Rye, N.Y., at 3 a.m. on July 17, 2014, when he came upon the burning wreckage of a sport utility vehicle, which lay on its driver’s side. He parked, took a fire extinguisher with him, and fought the flames, enabling him to see the vehicle’s driver inside, his head against the windshield. Guffey, then 39, used the fire extinguisher to break out the window of the passenger door, which at that point was atop the wreckage. Being six-foot-five, he had the leverage to do so.
The driver stood and started to emerge through the window, but a broken hip and other injuries hampered him. Although flames in the engine area were spreading toward the windshield, Guffey stepped onto the wreckage there, grasped the driver, and hauled the 200-pound man out. The vehicle was shortly engulfed by flames, Guffey sustaining minor burns to both feet. The driver was not burned, but he required two weeks’ hospitalization for treatment of his injuries. “I have since recovered and resumed normal activities,” he told the Hero Fund. “I do feel that Mr. Guffey acted in a heroic and courageous manner, placing himself at personal risk in close proximity to a developing inferno.”
Established in 1983, the Goodyear Highway Hero Award is given to professional truck drivers who put themselves in harm’s way to help others as they travel North America. Blackburn is not the first Carnegie Medal awardee to have received the honor, which carries a $5,000 grant. Recent others include Michael F. Schiotis (2011) of Spring Hill, Tenn., who saved a woman from assault by a gunman, and Jorge L. Orozco-Sanchez (2008) of Firestone, Colo., who saved two children from a burning sport utility vehicle.
Blackburn, who hauls oil and automotive parts for Apollo Oil of Winchester, was eastbound on the Bluegrass Parkway near Bardstown, Ky., on March 12, 2014, when he saw a police cruiser going the opposite direction lurch into the median and stop. As he passed it, Blackburn, then 44, saw that its driver, jailer Darrel L. Herndon, 56, was being choked by the prisoner he was transporting. The prisoner had freed himself of his handcuffs and climbed partially through the small window in the partition separating the cruiser’s front- and back-seat areas.
Blackburn reacted immediately, parking and running to the cruiser, where he found that the prisoner by then had completely entered the front seat. He separated the two men, but the prisoner then pulled Herndon’s gun from its holster and threatened Blackburn and Herndon. Blackburn struggled against the prisoner for control of the weapon and was able to wrench it free. Herndon then re-secured the prisoner.
“I’m not a hero,” Blackburn later told a reporter. “I’m just an old country boy. The men and women out here who got the badges, wearing the uniforms, driving the fire trucks and ambulances, fighting the wars. They’re the heroes. They do it every single day. All I did was repay the debt that is owed to him and every other person that had put their life on the line for someone else.”