Truck driver David Fredericksen and his co-driver, Walter Letterman, were making their weekly run from Lake Wales, Florida, to California, on Aug. 11 when a fiery accident involving an automobile and an 18-wheeler unfolded in front of them.
Fredericksen jumped out of his cab, used a fire extinguisher to calm the flames, then pulled a 1-year-old girl from the back seat of the burning car while others came to the aid of her grandmother in the front seat.
Now Fredericksen is being hailed as the “hero truck driver” who stepped up before anyone else did and may have helped save the lives of one or both of the accident victims.
“We thought the people were dead,” said Fredericksen, who stopped his truck in the middle of Interstate 10 just north of Gulfport, Mississippi, when a Lincoln Town Car spun out of control as it tried to merge onto the highway, striking the 18-wheeler and bursting into flames. “I figured if they were dead, I could at least put the fire out.”
In fact, they escaped relatively unharmed, according to Gulfport police, as did the driver of the 18-wheeler. Fredericksen, 45 and a father of four, first pulled open the passenger side door of the automobile, but then spotted the child in the back seat, and tended to her first. “Her eyes were big; she was in shock,” Fredericksen said.
His efforts might have garnered little attention, were it not for the Internet.
A video of the accident, the fireball and the rescue effort has gone viral on the Web, with more than 830,000 views on YouTube as of Aug. 19. (See video here.)
That video was recorded by Fredericksen’s “dash cam,” which he happened to activate that day when he took the wheel from co-driver Letterman just minutes earlier in Biloxi.
The video sat in his camera for an entire week before he mentioned it to his son Logan, 26, who uploaded it to YouTube. The video has a faulty date time stamp, making it appear as though the accident occurred in 2013.
The video became the focus of stories on ABC’s “Good Morning, America” and other news outlets. But Fredericksen deflects the “hero” accolades and says most people would have done the same thing he did – that he’s getting attention mostly because it was caught on video.
“I don’t feel like a hero; I feel like a Good Samaritan,” he said by phone Aug. 19, while he and Letterman (who was driving) were making another Florida-to-California run for Oakley Transport. They drive orange juice out to California and typically bring lemon juice back in a 48-hour, 2,700-mile journey. “I was praying that the people were all right.”
He did acknowledge that it was nice to come home from that trip and have his kids call him a hero. Fredericksen lives in Palm Coast, Florida, with wife Jinny, and is the father of four boys between the ages of 6 and 26.
And Fredericksen, a truck driver for five years, is happy for any positive light the incident might shine on truck drivers.
“We’re often the first responders,” he said of their presence on the highways. “We get out of the truck with the fire extinguishers and the first-aid kits and try to help people until the police and firemen get there.”