A team of two truck drivers from Illinois and individual drivers from California, Tennessee, and Colorado have been named finalists in the 26th annual Goodyear North America Highway Hero award program.

Founded by Goodyear in 1983, the Highway Hero program recognizes professional truck drivers and the often unnoticed, life-saving rescues and roadside assistance they provide as their jobs take them across North America.

Nikolay Zashev of Franklin Park IL and Tihomir Tanev of Schiller Park IL, both contract drivers for FedEx Ground, are co-finalists for the award. The team drivers were enroute to Sacramento CA on the evening of January 21, 2008, when a large van spun out of control in the eastbound lanes of I-80 in Iowa, crossed the median, and collided with their tractor-trailer on the left side. The unit was turned and pushed into the median, through the eastbound lanes, and into a ditch on the other side. Zashev, driving at the time, was able to keep the tractor and set of double-trailers upright, along with avoiding contact with any other vehicles.

The truck drivers were shaken up, but not injured. They noticed the van that had collided with their truck was now resting in the westbound lanes and on fire. Zashev and Tanev rushed to the damaged van and found a man unconscious and bleeding, but were able to pull him out of the van and into the snow. Emergency personnel arrived on the scene, thanked the truck drivers for their help, and cared for the injured driver.

Willie Wilson of Santa Clara CA, a driver for United Parcel Service (UPS), was traveling November 7, 2008, along I-80 in Yolo County CA where he noticed a fire near the freeway. After grabbing a fire extinguisher, he found a vehicle that appeared to have rolled over. The engine compartment was on fire and he saw there was still a driver inside.

Wilson was able to drag the injured driver to the side of the nearby highway ramp as a fire department arrived on the scene. Emergency personnel fought the flames while others began on-site medical care for the victim.

Roy Hackett of Nashville TN, a driver for UPS, was driving on I-75 near Chattanooga TN April 22, 2008, when he heard over the CB radio that a car ahead was on fire. Arriving at the scene, he stopped his truck, seized his fire extinguisher, and ran to the car. The victim was wedged between the steering wheel and the seat. He was able to tell Hackett that he recently had hip surgery and was unable to move well on his own. By this time, flames and smoke were beginning to pour from the car.

Another driver who had appeared at the scene and Hackett were able to drag the man out of the car that was engulfed in flames and pull him 50-60 yards away from the fire. The rescued driver later wrote to UPS: "I believe the Lord put Roy's brown truck behind me so he could save me. My hip was so bad after the surgery...I would not have gotten out by myself."

Jorge Orozco Sanchez of Firestone CO, an owner-operator, was hauling grain October 28, 2008, on Highway 392, north of Greeley, CO. An SUV suddenly crossed the center line and collided head-on into Orozco's tractor-trailer rig. As the vehicles stopped moving, a shaken Orozco Sanchez quickly jumped from his cab and ran to the other vehicle. With flames already beginning to surround the vehicles, he saw two girls, strapped into their car seats and crying, and a woman in the front who was not moving. Working with a passer-by who used a fire extinguisher to fight back the flames, Orozco Sanchez rescued the two girls.

One of the youngsters was extracted quickly, but the fire was growing in intensity and smoke was so thick he had trouble seeing into the vehicle. He was finally able to remove the other girl before the truck's fuel tanks ruptured and burst into flame. The 27-year-old mother died in the crash.

Orozco Sanchez sustained burns on his arms from the rescue and was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment. The fire reduced the cab and the SUV to rubble and damaged the side of a nearby building.

"These five individuals represent the thousands of professional truck drivers that work every day across North America," said Joseph Copeland, vice-president, Goodyear commercial tire systems. "Each year, this program offers an opportunity for recognition of those who put their lives on the line to help others. This year, our honored truck drivers all risked their lives to rescue strangers who were in peril due to fiery accidents. In one case, two young girls were rescued, but their mother perished, and our thoughts and prayers go out to this family. Time after time, truck drivers have emerged as bona fide heroes. When motorists have needed help, they've stopped and put themselves in harm's way."

One of the drivers will be named the 2008 Goodyear North America Highway Hero after journalists from the trucking industry vote on the finalists. The winner will be featured March 19 at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville KY at the Truck Writers of North America annual banquet. He will receive a $10,000 US Savings Bond, a plaque, and a specially designed ring. The other finalists will receive a $5,000 US Savings Bond and plaque.