Bison Transport drivers Craig “Flipper” Sutherland and Laurie “Crusty” Clifford are best friends. They drive the same route every day, one ahead of the other; they hang out with each other’s families; and, if they have to, they even perform hero duties together.
The duo was named co-recipients of the 2019 Bridgestone-OTA Truck Hero award last night at the Ontario Trucking Association’s 93rd annual Executive Conference & Gala. It is the first time the award was given to two drivers.
The incident for which they were honoured happened in Dryden, Ont. last year where the drivers watched a minivan veer into oncoming traffic on Hwy 401 and slam head-on into an unsuspecting carload of passengers. The duo slammed on the brakes and jumped out of their respective vehicles.
“I said to Craig, you take the one on the right and I’ll take the one on the left. And, so that’s what we did,” explains Laurie.
Craig attended the first vehicle, which caused the crash. There was only a driver, who was semi-conscious, in shock, and had her legs “mangled” underneath the crumpled dashboard.
“There was no way I could get her out. She was pinned,” recalls Craig, who was standing in a pool of oil and gas at this point. “All I could do was pull the airbag away from her face and try and keep her calm and keep her conscious. I kept telling her she was going to be okay and that help was coming soon. It wasn’t soon, though. It must have been close to an hour before the paramedics arrived.”
At the other vehicle, Laurie saw a driver who was badly injured and a passenger who was trapped. The door was jammed so he used all his effort to pry it open. He gently pried the driver out of the car and rested her on the ground. He asked the passenger if there were more people in the car and he indicated there was another one in the back. Laurie noticed a bleeding elderly woman lying underneath the backseats. He pulled her out and at first, she seemed stable. We walked her over to sit down, but after about 15 minutes he eyes rolled back and she passed away.
“There was nothing anyone could do. There was no help there yet. She just died right in front of me,” Laurie recalls somberly. “It bothers me. I go by that spot every week, and I see the whole thing every time. You try to forget it, but… “
About 45 minutes later, emergency crews finally arrived. One fire fighter ran up to the car Craig was attending with the Jaws of Life and proceeded to slam the instrument into the side of the driver side door.
“I yelled at him – “hey buddy, look! Her legs are trapped under there,” says Craig. “I had to stop him or else he would have caused even more damage. He didn’t even look. They had to cut the vehicle piece by piece after that.”
Although they’re honoured to receive the award, Craig and Laurie don’t consider themselves heroes. They say they just acted instinctively because it was the right thing to do under the circumstances.
“If you can help someone, you don’t think twice. You just do it,” says Laurie. “I just hope somebody would do it if it was one of my family members.”
Despite the duo’s modesty, their family and colleagues don’t question their heroism and bravery at all.
“Sometimes heroes don’t where capes, but there’s no question they are heroes,” says Rob Penner, president, Bison Transport. “You always wonder how someone will react in a situation like that, especially when there’s a tragedy, but they weren’t concerned with their own well-being or what kind of effect it could cause emotionally down the line. They just acted to try and make sure as many people were as safe as possible. That’s very commendable and we at Bison couldn’t be more proud of those two.”