‘It’s just something, I feel, anybody would have done…’
It was a typical mid-January morning for the Magic Valley region of southern Idaho. Sub-freezing temperatures hovered around 20 degrees Fahrenheit and icy spots were prominent along the Interstate 84 corridor through the area.
Gary Hurd was eastbound, hauling for Paul Transportation out of Tulsa, OK, and approaching Milepost 208 near the small Idaho town of Burley. The area wasn’t unfamiliar to Hurd, who grew up and graduated high school just 229 miles away in the tiny southwestern Idaho town of Weiser, population just over 5,000. But it wasn’t the days of his youth that Hurd was concentrating on as his navigated his way across the icy interstate. Rather, Hurd was set on getting safely through the area en route back to Oklahoma.
Suddenly, Hurd spied a van come across the top of an overpass and spin out of control.
Hurd, 46, drove truck for 23 years, the last six of which were for Paul Transportation. His driving career shifted gears in March, however, as Hurd took a promotion to teach orientation for Paul Transportation. During his driving career, he amassed somewhere between 2.8 million and 2.99 million miles on the road without and accident.
His small-town values run deep as he still addresses people and mister or misses. After high school, Hurd served in the U.S. Navy, then became a certified EMT in the early 2000s.
It’s important to note that Hurd isn’t one to seek out the limelight. Now a former truck driver, Hurd, 46, loved to drive. More importantly, he loved to get home and spend time with his family. While on the job, he always inquired about others and their families and looked for ways to help.
That’s why it was really no surprise to co-workers to find out about a couple of remarkable incidents in which Hurd was involved, but never whispered a word to anyone.
On that cold morning on Jan. 17, 2015, Hurd was driving defensively, making sure he would get home to see his family. Witnessing an ensuing accident, though, was enough to take anyone’s breath away.
“The next thing I knew, (the van) went off the north side of the interstate and I saw it go end over end into a corn field,” Hurd said. “I got on my brakes and got to the shoulder.”
Hurd ran across both lanes of the interstate to reach the van. When he got there, he saw a woman sitting in the driver’s seat and called out to see if she was all right.
“I could hear kids crying in the back (of the van), so I knew they were conscious,” Hurd said. “She looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, we’re fine. But my daughter ….’”
Hurd looked inside the vehicle and noticed that 9-year-old Carlena Best was laid back in the front seat of the van. She was unconscious and not breathing.
“I tried to get the door open, but I couldn’t get it open,” Hurd said of the passenger side of the van. “The passenger window was broken, so I went in through the window.”
Hurd said the girl’s head was positioned in such a way that it was cutting off her airway and wasn’t allowing her to breath. He said he had to make a decision to move her head and allow her to get air, or the young lady would die.
“I made that choice to mover her head,” he said. “Once I moved her head, within 15 or 20 seconds, she gasped for air.”
Hurd’s EMT training kicked in. He knew the girl’s injuries were serious and he knew he was risking paralysis for the girl by moving her head. But risk paralysis, or face certain death made it a relatively easy decision. After she started breathing, Hurd knew he had to sit with her and keep her as immobile as possible.
“They (EMTs and law enforcement) told me I spent 45 minutes holding Carlena,” Hurd said. “I really wasn’t aware of the time. I lost all track of time. It was about 20 degrees outside and I didn’t have my coat. I didn’t even feel it. My adrenaline was pumping pretty good.”
At the same time, Hurd had to try to keep Carlena’s mother from moving because he knew she was suffering from shock and possible other unknown injuries.
“The others just had scrapes and bruises,” Hurd said. “The mother was in shock and had whiplash. I was trying to get her to stay still, but I couldn’t let go of Carlena. I just kept telling her to stay still.”
The only other problem were the children in the rear of the vehicle. While scared, none were seriously injured. Hurd was trying to get other bystanders to get in with the younger children, while trying to tend to Carlena and her mother, but none would oblige. Finally, rescuers arrived at the scene.
Carlena Best suffered from a broken neck in the accident. According to Hurd, the fracture is one known as a hangman’s fracture.
“From what Mr. and Mrs. Best told me, the doctors and nurses at the hospital were shocked she was still alive,” he said. “That’s why it’s called the hangman’s fracture.”
Today, Carlena Best is walking on her own and doing many of the things any other girl of her age would do.
“Her larynx is still weak,” Hurd said. “I call her my miracle girl. Within a year, she’s up and walking. She’s amazing.”
Hurd says he doesn’t contact the Best family, but said the family does contact him now and then to let him know Carlena’s progress.
“He (Mr. Best) calls me every once in a while to check on me,” Hurd said. “Other than that, I’m not the type of person who bothers people.”
Oddly, it wasn’t until several weeks after the accident, when the Best family contacted Paul Transportation wanting to thank the driver who helped them in the accident, that anyone at Paul Transportation knew what happened.
“The dispatcher had no clue about the accident or the heroic actions of Gary Hurd,” said Boe Burleson, a member of the sales and pricing team with Paul Transportation. “Only after asking some questions ourselves were we able to piece together what Gary had done in saving this young girl’s life. That’s the type of person Gary is.”
And it wasn’t the only time.
Less than 13 months later, in early February, 2016, Hurd was traveling north on U.S. 75 through Schulter, OK, when he entered a construction zone. He was following another truck driver pulling doubles at a distance of between three and four truck lengths.
“I happened to look up and he hit something on a real narrow bridge,” Hurd said about truck in front of him. “I saw his steer tire blow and he went off into the construction area, hit a pile of dirt and concrete and went over. The fuel tanks went up when they busted open.”
Once again, Hurd was quick to get his truck stopped. This time, though, he stopped on the narrow bridge to block traffic, then exited his tractor with his fire extinguisher and rushed to see if he could help.
Hurd was about 200 feet from the other truck and he moved as quickly as he could to get to the accident. The cab of the truck was on the ground, and the driver had stepped out of the truck, but had leaned back in and on the door.
“He was in shock and wasn’t moving,” Hurd said. “I asked him if he was all right and he said his knee was pretty banged up.”
When Hurd reached the driver, he could see the fire growing inside the cab of the truck. He told the other driver they needed to get him out of there because of the fire, but the other driver did not respond.
“He didn’t move,” Hurd said. “I grabbed him under the arms and drug him about 100 feet back from the truck. I went back to use my fire extinguisher, but it was gone — fully engulfed.”
Once again, news of Hurd’s heroics went unheralded until more than a month later. When Hurd brought his truck in to get it serviced, a co-worker noticed a letter in Hurd’s paperwork from the driver of the other truck — Kerry Greenfield — thanking Hurd for pulling him out of the wreck and saving his life.
Along with a photo of Greenfield and his entire family, a letter told how the Greenfield felt about Hurd’s actions.
“Me and my family can’t thank you enough for ‘saving my life’ last Friday night-Saturday morning,” Greenfield said in the letter. “You are truly my ‘hero.’ … I don’t believe I could have made it out safely out [sic] of the accident without your help of pulling me safely away from my burning tractor. The ambulance paramedics and state trooper both said if you weren’t there to pull me out of the burning tractor that I probably wouldn’t of [sic] made it and I totally agree, 150 percent, with them.”
Greenfield went on to tell Hurd that he had broken his knee cap in the crash and would have to have surgery when the swelling subsided. He also suffered from bruises on his chest and lacerations on his head from the accident.
“Gary has saved two lives while on the road and doesn’t seek any recognition or thanks,” Burleson said about Hurd. “He just says, ‘People do the right things, even when bad things are happening.’”
For Hurd, notoriety is not something he looks for.
“That’s just what people are supposed to do,” he said. “The attention makes me feel more uncomfortable than what I actually did. I’m glad I can help people. I was in the right place at the right time. It’s just something, I feel, anybody would have done in the same circumstance.”