(The Daily Advertiser) On June 17, 2017, Fernandez Garner woke up and reported to work like he did every day.
The 55-year-old is a military veteran and New Orleans native who now lives in Humble, Texas and has been driving for Dupré Logistics for the past eight years.
“It was a normal, regular day,” said Garner. “I report to work at noon and check out my truck. Once I have my paperwork logged in I get on the highway. I was heading from Houston, Texas, to Dallas.
“I was following behind an older SUV, I was about 2 tankers in distance behind them,” he said. “We were on I-45 N.”
It was right before mile marker 171, 3:30 p.m., that Garner witnessed a horrific accident take place right before his eyes.
“A gas tanker came out of nowhere,” he said. “He cut short in front of me and right behind the SUV he cut so short that I had to slam my breaks immediately.”
From there, Garner recalls watching the SUV swerve off the road and flip several times, ultimately rolling down a hill, full speed into a tree.
“When the SUV went up in the air, the tanker locked their breaks,” he said. “I checked my mirrors and was able to pass on the left side. As soon as I switched lanes, I saw a little girl sitting in front of the tanker on the ground.
“I stopped my truck even though there was traffic coming up quickly behind me — in Texas, if you leave a gap, they will come through. Someone would have hit her. I took that chance and tried my best to protect her.”
Miraculously, the girl, who was ejected from the back window of the SUV, appeared to be unharmed and was picking herself up to stand from the fall. Garner says the girl looked about 6 years old.
A male driver behind Garner came to a stop, put on his caution lights, and ran to pick the girl up from the roadway.
Garner called to the man to ask if she was OK, and once he received confirmation she was fine, he ran to the SUV.
“The SUV hit the tree very hard, I ran down the hill because I didn’t want to take a chance on the SUV catching fire,” he said. “Upon reaching the vehicle, two young girls and an older boy started crawling out of the back-side door on the passenger side. I told them to calm down and let me make sure they were OK.”
The children were unharmed. A female driver got down to help and called Garner to send the children up to her on the roadway.
Garner went back to the SUV to help the remaining passengers inside, the mother and father of the children in the vehicle. The woman was calling out for her children and struggling to get out of the SUV.
“The mom’s leg was broken, I calmed her down and told her that her children were OK,” said Garner. “I pointed her to them so she could see her kids.”
An infant, who Garner did not see at first, began to cry. He ran around the van to check on the child, who was covered in blood. There were no cuts or marks on her. Before he removed the infant, he checked on the driver.
“He was hurt very badly, the roof and front part of the door were caved into his head. There was blood everywhere. He wasn’t moving, but he had a pulse. My instincts told me not to touch him and to leave him right there,” said Garner. “I didn’t want to cause more damage.”
Garner spoke to the woman on the passenger side to calm her down, and he assured her that her husband would be OK and that he still had a pulse. She asked Garner if she could hold her baby.
“The baby instantly stopped crying as soon as she touched her mom,” he said.
After that moment, the man in the driver’s seat began to move and forced himself out of the SUV. The man had a very serious head injury from the impact but was still aware and began to yell out for his family.
Two other drivers from the roadway ran down the hill to help Garner sit the man on the ground. A nurse ran to the scene from traffic to help and attended to the man. Garner waited until the ambulance arrived to leave the scene.
“It was definitely a miracle,” said Garner, “The children did not have a scratch on them, even the little girl who was on the road.”
From there, Garner got back into his truck and continued on his route. He shared the news with his supervisor.
“I thought about it the rest of the day,” he said. “I thank God for putting me in the position to help somebody.
“From my military background, I was trained to help people. When the accident occurred, it just kicked in … there wasn’t much time to think, it was just quick reactions— I took a chance and followed my natural instincts.”
A fellow Dupré Logistics driver was in traffic behind the accident, witnessed the event take place and reported Garner’s heroic actions to the company’s headquarters in Houston. The company has had drivers who have helped motorists in the past with mechanical problems but never to this extent.
“I am proud that one of our professional drivers stopped to help this motorist that had been involved in a crash,” said Al LaCombe, vice president of Safety and Risk Management. “Dupre Logistics is proud to have Fernandez Garner as a professional driver as part of our team. The professionalism displayed with his actions says a lot about a man!”
Garner received the title of “Highway Angel” by the Truckload Carriers Association for his heroic courage and actions. This honor recognizes professional drivers who go above and beyond the usual line of work to display courageous acts or unusual acts of kindness.
“When you see something like this happen, nothing else really matters — you know?” Garner says. “Right now, we have all this racism going back and forth in our country, this party is against that party — and so forth. When you see something like this accident and you are right in the middle of it, none of that even crosses your mind. The first thing that crossed my mind was helping — doing what I can to help.”