Goodyear awarded its 25th North American Highway Hero award during this year's Mid-America Trucking Show to Richard Filiczkowski for diving into an icy South Dakota pond last April and saving the life of eight-year-old Abby Bern — although Filiczkowski said that Abby was the real hero and he and wife Janet are merely “Abby's Angels.”
Janet Filiczkowski was driving the C.R. England truck down Interstate 90 about 100 mi. west of Sioux Falls when she spotted a car careening into a pond. She woke Richard, who quickly ran to the scene.
“I dove right in because I saw Abby pounding on the car's back window,” Richard Filiczkowski said. “My only instinct was to get her out of the car as soon as possible. In situations like that, seconds count.”
Also in the car was Abby's father, Dr. Jeff Bern, who was unconscious in the driver's seat. Two other men joined Filiczkowski in the water, but the three rescuers were initially unable to pry the car doors before getting the rear hatch open. However, Dr. Bern was held in the car by a seat belt and his legs were lodged under the steering column. After 10 minutes, the three men were able to pull the father from the car, but it was too late.
Marty Bern, Dr. Bern's wife, invited the Filiczkowskis to her husband's funeral, and Mrs. Bern and Abby were present at the award ceremony. “Richard's name is on the award, but his wife and tandem truck driver Janet is equally deserving,” said Donn Kramer, director of marketing for Goodyear commercial tire systems. “Together, their heroics are truly inspiring. They are a wonderful couple.”
The other Highway Hero finalists were Rick Tower, a driver for Earl Bryant Trucking, who rescued an 82-year-old woman from her sinking car, which had landed in the Klamath River; David Virgoe, a driver for Wilburn Archer Trucking, who fatally swerved his empty tanker truck off the road and away from oncoming traffic to avoid three street-racing cars; and Ronnie Greene, a driver for A. Passmore & Sons, who rescued a pregnant woman as her boyfriend tried to run her over with her truck.