Wednesday, March 12, 2003

What really matters

Trucker put another's life above all else


The driver in the red car behind me nearly kissed my bumper yesterday morning, urging me to drive faster.

I couldn't switch into slower traffic on my right, but I refused to speed up. I muttered a few choice words as I came upon a truck and had to slow down. The tailgater's hand motions showed he was frustrated. When he could, he whipped around me.

Another high-speed game of chicken, another me-or-them choice. I hate what rush hour does to us.

Then I thought about Richard Groendyke and Ken Tracy, and I thanked God for drivers who remember their humanity on the roadways.

Tracy is a Loveland father of two and vice president of a consulting firm. On Feb. 26 he was headed to a client meeting in Georgetown, Ky., driving 65 mph on Interstate 71/75 and talking on his cell phone, when a sudden pain in his stomach doubled him over.

He tried pulling to the side of the road, and he did slow down. But he lost consciousness before he could stop.

Split-second decision

Richard Groendyke of Andersen Township drives an 18-wheeler. He heard on the CB about a driver weaving in traffic. As Groendyke crested a hill he saw the blue Jeep Cherokee zig-zagging on and off the road.

As he approached, the Jeep hit the guardrail several times but didn't stop. No brake lights lit.

Groendyke slowed his rig to drive alongside the Jeep. He saw the driver's head on the passenger seat.

"My first thought was, if he accidentally comes off the guardrail and gets into a travel lane, that could be disastrous,'' Groendyke recalls.

He pulled close to the Jeep as it weaved, keeping it heading forward on the berm, then he sped up and got in front of it.

It was scary, Groendyke recalls, perched in a rig on a berm, a tiny guardrail on your right keeping you from a drop, an out-of-control Jeep behind you, and traffic speeding by on your left.

"I was watching my mirror wondering, `Am I doing the right thing?''' he says.

At first the trucker coasted, trying again to match speed with the Jeep and minimize the impact he knew would come. Then he slowed. He felt the Jeep hit his trailer. He set his brakes, grabbed his cell phone and got out.

A guardrail angel

The Jeep's engine was still running. Its windows and doors were locked.

Groendyke pounded on them, yelling at the unconscious man inside.

Tracy awakened, confused, his lip bleeding.

Groendyke called for emergency services. Tracy handed his cell phone to the trucker and asked him to call Tracy's wife.

"When I came to in my car the only thing I saw was him,'' Tracy says.

"He took the initiative. The guard rail in another quarter of a mile would have run out, and my car would have gone into the gully."

Groendyke apologized for damaging the Jeep, Tracy says. "He said, `I hope you don't do anything to me.' Imagine that."

Tracy's all right now. His flu had aggravated a medical condition. It could have been worse.

That day already was a difficult anniversary: 11 years earlier, his father-in-law, a trucker, died in an industrial accident.

Tracy is so grateful he called the president of the trucking company and Groendyke's union to commend him. He sent him a $100 gift certificate to the Montgomery Inn.

Recently he put one of his young daughters on the phone to thank Groendyke again.

Groendyke, a new grandfather, says, "Part of me wanted to reach for the tissue. Nothing else mattered."

Not true, Mr. Groendyke. When it counted, you mattered.

E-mail or phone 768-8395

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