Bluefield Daily Telegraph
About three months after my mom passed away, Evonda and I tried to get away for a few days at Chincoteague and Assateague Islands. Those were busy days with work, helping my mother-in-law and trying to get Mom’s estate settled. Mom died on March 1, 2011. I was going to be off on Monday and Tuesday of that week after working the weekend, and I took Wednesday and Thursday off for our vacation. We were going to be back on Friday. It wasn’t much of a vacation since we hadn’t had one in the previous few years, and since we didn’t have a lot of money, we were going to have to charge everything but our food on our credit card. Still, we were excited to get away.
The mid-June sky was clear and blue as we drove on I-64 past Charlottesville and headed for the traffic snarl between Williamsburg and Norfolk. I put a Brad Paisley CD in and Evonda and I were enjoying “American Saturday Night,” when I spotted a piece of metal in the middle of the highway after passing a truck. I swerved right in order to miss it, but I was just a little too slow and my driver’s side rear tire exploded as it clipped the metal.
I managed to drive safely to the side of the road and stop. After getting the jack and poor excuse for a tire iron out of the trunk, I almost instantly knew that I needed help, so I tried to call AAA. That was somewhere east of Zion Crossroads, in a place where my cell phone didn’t have a signal, so I walked east about three-quarters of a mile to find a little rise in the highway where I could get a clear signal. In a matter of minutes, I was talking to a tow-truck driver who said he could be there in 20 minutes. Oh, what a relief it was.
I returned to the car and explained to Evonda why I walked east, and told her that help was on the way and should arrive in about 15 minutes. Just then, I noticed a Virginia state trooper pulling up behind me and turning on his blue lights. As I saw him walking in the direction of our car, I got out and started walking to meet him. I showed him the cut in the tire, the cross-threaded lug nuts and my poor excuse for a lug wrench, but told him that a tow truck driver was on the way.
Out of habit, I looked at his name plate and it didn’t ring a bell with me. Still, I told him I was a newspaper guy from Bluefield, and that I was familiar with I-64 as well as being familiar with being on the shoulder of interstate highways as part of my work. He smiled and said that he would stay with me until I got my problem resolved. When I told him we were OK, he said he would stay, just the same.
The wrecker service guy came while I was still talking with the trooper. The wrecker guy had a compressor on his truck and with torque, was able to remove the lug nuts. Two of them were so badly damaged that he couldn’t save them, so I needed to but a new tire, five studs and five lug nuts when we got to the nearest tire place. After I got back on the road with the doughnut tire that was rated at 50 miles per hour, the trooper followed me all the way to the first exit that advertised a service station. I remember thinking at the time that he didn’t need to do that, but I really appreciate the fact that he did.
For the past several weeks, I have been writing stories about SB 293, “Andrew’s Law,” a bill proposed by the family of the late Trooper Andrew Fox who was killed in the line of duty by a distracted driver on Oct. 5, 2012. I’m pretty sure I saw Andrew when he was on the police force with the town of Tazewell. Former chief, now Tazewell Sheriff Brian Hieatt, invited me to town hall when the department was accredited. I’m not sure.
As a news reporter I have literally had hundreds of situations where troopers and other law enforcement officers have always respected that I was doing my job, just as I respect the job they are doing. With a daily newspaper, I can’t wait for a press release. The public wants to know why they were held up in traffic or where the smoke is coming from. If they don’t get that information in the next available news window, I’m not doing my job.
Back in June of 2011, I thought more about the delay in our trip and the expense of a new tire than about how nice it was of that trooper to put himself between me and the potential for trouble I might have had driving 50 miles per hour in a zone where the posted speed was 65, but most vehicles were going much faster than that. I was safe on the highway because of that trooper, and I don’t even remember his name to thank him.
I remember Andrew Fox’s name. I remember his sacrifice and the sacrifices his family has made since his death to help all the other emergency responders whose work puts them out on dangerous highways among drivers who rarely seem to even notice the flashing lights that warn them of danger.
My wife and I got to safety at least, in part, because a Virginia state trooper followed us with flashing lights as we hobbled along to a safe exit. I can’t thank that one trooper, but it doesn’t hurt me to thank them all .. and to keep thanking them for the citizens they serve and protect every day.
Bill Archer is senior editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at email@example.com.