Peter Holland and Fred Robatcek have little in common besides being professional truck drivers.
Holland speaks with a charming English accent, one that was acquired from living in the United Kingdom for the greater part of his life.
He is incredibly kind, soft-spoken and succinct, careful not to ramble on about where he’s been and what he’s done. He moved to Waterdown, Ont. just over a year ago from across the pond because his wife has lots of family scattered across North America. He drives for Challenger Motor Freight, and has been a professional driver for more than three decades.
Robatcek of Sauk Rapids, Minn. is witty and nothing short of loquacious – a true foil to Holland. He has an accent and likes to swap the word “girl” for “gal.”
He’s refreshingly polite and speaks openly about his life. He is divorced and says the trucking life suits him, since he likes and needs to keep busy. He’s been a driver with FTC Transportation since 2007 and claims he is living his childhood dream; he’s wanted to be a pro driver since he rode around the yard in his John Deere pedal tractor as a kid.
Though nearly 1,000 miles separates these two seemingly opposite truck drivers, together they made a special delivery in Arkansas that, oddly enough, started with a scream.
The first to hear the scream was Robatcek. It was nearly 5:30 a.m. on this past Nov. 30 and he was the only customer in a Texarkana Denny’s restaurant.
This first scream got Robatcek to turn from the counter where he was sipping his coffee, and to fix his gaze on a woman by the entrance who was, as Robatcek put it, in obvious distress.
“Oh, don’t mind her,” said another woman on the phone who had just rushed in from the parking lot. “She’s just having a baby.”
That was enough for Robatcek to get up off his stool and make his way over to Kaycee Triana, the sister of the woman on the phone, who had her pants halfway down in the middle of the near-empty restaurant as she let out another piercing scream.
Triana was two weeks past her due date, according to reports and stopped at the Denny’s where her mother worked while on her way to the hospital. Her mother had already left the restaurant and ended up making it to the hospital – Triana didn’t.
Holland heard the first scream too, while he was in the restaurant’s washroom, but didn’t think much of it at first.
He didn’t start running towards Robatcek and Triana until after she let out a second scream (that Holland described as “blood-curdling”) and Holland realized what was going on.
Both drivers tried to get Triana comfortable for delivery and encouraged her to push since they could already see the baby coming.
“Then Peter noticed the baby wasn’t moving,” said Robatcek.
The umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck, preventing it from breathing. Holland thought fast and fortunately knew what to do.
Holland manipulated the cord, loosening it from the baby’s neck. After a few beats, he delivered a 10-pound, four-ounce baby boy safely in his arms, something he credits to his experience in combat medicine in the UK.
“Most people say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing,” said Holland. “But this time, a little knowledge went a long way.”
Holland and the baby spent a little time together while the employees and drivers at the truck stop across the way (who had made their way over because of all the commotion and yelling) got fresh towels for the newborn and mother.
Holland recalls fondly that while in his arms the baby, Andrew, took his first breath and even held onto his finger.
“That smell will always be with me,” said Holland sweetly. “That new baby smell.”
Robatcek got on the phone with the 911 dispatcher since they needed direction on how to cut the umbilical cord after little Andrew was cleaned off and safe.
Because of their quick thinking and life-saving actions Robatcek and Holland were named Highway Angels by the Truckload Carriers Association – an award given to truckers who go above and beyond their duties as drivers.
Robatcek told me he was the one who nominated Holland for the award.
“It would not be fair for me to take all the credit when he was just as involved,” said Robatcek. “We were both just in the right spot at the right time.”
Robatcek said he is humbled by the experience. He said he is glad that both baby and mom are okay and that the event shed some positive light over the trucking industry.
“Some of us have had a pretty bad rap over the years because of this or that,” he said. “I never wanted that image. I try hard to represent this industry as positively as possible all the time.”
Both drivers are still in contact with Triana and baby Andrew. They are both anxiously waiting for some new photos of him.
After telling me the whole story of that morning in Arkansas, Holland tells me, “It was quite emotional.”
Of course, he and the baby share a special bond, since he told me with a smile I could feel on the other end of the phone that the baby’s middle name is Peter.
Sonia Straface is the associate editor of Truck News and Truck West magazines. She graduated from Ryerson University's journalism program in 2013 and enjoys writing about health and wellness and HR issues surrounding the transportation industry. Follow her on Twitter: @SoniaStraface. All posts by Sonia Straface