BRADFORD, Ont. - It's a difficult task to find positive reports about the trucking industry in the mainstream media. Opinion pages are often riddled with letters from readers complaining about sharing...
BRADFORD, Ont. – It’s a difficult task to find positive reports about the trucking industry in the mainstream media. Opinion pages are often riddled with letters from readers complaining about sharing the highways with big rigs and any time a transport truck is involved in a highway crash – despite the much higher frequency of car crashes – the public is sure to hear about it.
Since it’s not often that truckers are viewed in a positive light, it was unfortunate that when a story surfaced in mid-June focusing on a trucker’s on-road heroics, that the tale should end in tragedy.
The much-publicized story told of 48-year-old trucker, David Virgoe, who lost his life by saving the lives of others. Virgoe, a driver with Norwood, Ont.-based Archer Trucking, was heading north on Hwy. 400 near Bradford when he moved to avoid a speeding car, lost control of his rig, and crashed into the guardrail before weaving his truck away from the southbound traffic and crashing into the ditch. The accident was triggered by two or three vehicles that were allegedly being driven dangerously. Two drivers have been charged with five offences each, including criminal negligence causing death and street racing.
One of the first to use the word “heroic” to describe Virgoe’s actions was Jane Lennox, a driver who witnessed the ordeal from the southbound lanes and briefly stared death in the face.
“It was the weirdest thing. Coming down the highway I was just talking with my (13-year-old) daughter and I looked up and…when I looked across the highway into the northbound lanes I saw this truck,” said the 40-year-old Barrie resident. “I just looked at it and I thought, ‘Something’s going to happen.’ It was one of those things where you could almost see it happening. A split second later, he moved to avoid the car.”
From there, Lennox said Virgoe’s truck ploughed into the back of the speeding car, which in turn connected with another car in front of it. Virgoe’s truck then veered left and crashed through the guardrail, Lennox says, in contradiction with many reports that said Virgoe’s truck merely connected with the guardrail.
“(The media) said he made ‘contact’ with the guardrail, but he in fact actually came through the guardrail into my lane, and he corrected (or) jackknifed, however you want to say it, back into the northbound lanes with his cab being in my lane and the front part of his load.”
Lennox said the scene was akin to a “Terminator movie,” with large truck bearing down on her and debris flying everywhere. She said that her vehicle and Virgoe’s truck passed each other momentarily as he corrected himself, and she soon realized how close a call it had been.
“If he had not corrected, I would have hit him head-on. I would have had nowhere to go because the rig was so big. He would have gone across all three lanes. There would have been no time to stop, to get out of the way; I would have hit him head-on,” she said. “In my mind, he was a hero. My daughter and I are very grateful for his quick thinking.”
While Virgoe’s actions may have saved the lives of many others, his family must still face the conflicting emotions of extreme pride and grief. Virgoe’s widow, Debbie, who recently moved her family into a new home, says she is “surprised and shocked” at reaction from the public and the trucking industry.
“It’s overwhelming, not something I ever expected to happen. David and I were pretty quiet people,” she told Truck News.
However, she was hardly surprised to learn of her husband’s evasive actions to save the lives of others, describing David as the kind of guy who would give you “the last dime in his pocket” if you needed it.
“He always put other people first. It didn’t surprise me he’d do that if he thought he was going to hurt somebody,” she said. “I don’t think he knew he’d die, but I honestly believe he ditched his truck because he didn’t want to hurt anybody.”
Virgoe’s selfless actions have since caught the ear of the Ontario Trucking Association, which has established a scholarship endowment of $40,000 for children of Ontario truck drivers who are killed or seriously injured on the job.
“Mr. Virgoe’s selfless act and the kind of person he was epitomizes all that is good about the trucking industry. He was a model trucker, always willing to stop and provide assistance at roadside, a father, a grandfather and a decent human being,” said David Bradley, OTA president. “He, like all truck drivers, faced risks every day he was out on the road. Sadly he made the supreme sacrifice because of the reckless actions of a few others. But, in doing so he saved the lives of others.”
The perpetual scholarship fund will be administered by the OTA Education Foundation, established by the association to provide scholarships to children of trucking industry families for off-setting the cost of post-secondary education.
His employer, Wilburn Archer, described him as an excellent driver who won numerous safe driving awards during his 17-year tenure with the company.
For her part, Debbie and her family have become crusaders against street racing and are appealing to government to improve highway safety. However, she stresses she doesn’t support the province’s new law mandating speed limiters on heavy trucks.
“I got wind of the fact Dalton McGuinty is trying to put through legislation to govern our trucks and I’m not happy about that,” she told Truck News. “I used to call that David’s office. They’re professional people and they know what they have in their hands and the job they have to do with them. It’s time we fix something with our cars, not our trucks. Our trucks don’t race up and down the streets.”
A trust fund has been set up to help support Virgoe’s family. Donations can be made through any branch of TD Canada Trust to Branch 3668, Account 6269333.