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March 26, 2015 4:30 PM, EDT

Clinton Blackburn Named Goodyear's Highway Hero

John Sommers II for Transport Topics
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — “He loves the limelight, can’t you tell?” said Goodyear Commercial Tire Systems Marketing Director Gary Medalis as Clinton Blackburn, the first of three finalists for the company’s 32nd Highway Hero award, sheepishly ambled up the steps to the stage.

“You can just skip me,” Blackburn, of Morehead, Kentucky, said in a barely audible voice, slightly smiling.

Turns out that would not have been wise, as Blackburn, who drives for Apollo Oil, was named the winner, earning a ring, a trophy, $5,000 and the admiration of his fellow truckers, in the words of Medalis.

Blackburn is credited with saving the life of Darrell Herndon, a jailer from Spencer County, Kentucky, when Blackburn subdued a prisoner who had escaped and was strangling Herndon. 

The runner-up finalists took home trophies and $1,000 each. They are David Fredericksen of Windemere, Florida; and Mack Guffey of Gainesboro, Tennessee.

Fredericksen earned notoriety as the “hero trucker” when his dashcam video captured him rushing to the scene of a burning car, helping to put out the flames and to pull a grandmother and a 1-year-old to safety. The video has been watched more than 2.6 million times on YouTube. Guffey happened upon an SUV that had gone over a guardrail, and he also put out flames and pulled out a driver.

After Blackburn was named the winner, Herndon came to the stage and embraced Blackburn. The two have become fishing and hunting buddies in the aftermath of the incident. “Whether he had won this or not, he’s my hero,” Herndon said, his voice cracking.

Herndon was transporting a prisoner who had escaped his handcuffs and was strangling Herndon from the back seat. Herndon stopped the car on an interstate median and opened his door, attracting the attention of Blackburn, who pulled over and began trying to free the officer from the prisoner.

During the struggle, the prisoner managed to grab Herndon’s gun, but Blackburn fought the prisoner for control of the gun, eventually turning it around to point at the prisoner. Herndon and Blackburn finally subdued the prisoner.

“I just thank the good Lord for putting me where he did,” Blackburn said.

“I hate that it happened, but it couldn’t have worked out better,” said Herndon.

Goodyear’s Highway Hero has been presented each year since 1983, honoring professional truck drivers who put themselves in harm’s way to help others.  “All three of these men put everything on the line to save someone they didn’t even know,” Medalis said.