When you look back through your side view mirror, the last thing you expect to see is flames. That’s what happened to driver Tonya Keith. Tonya, who drives team with her husband, Tom, was driving a refrigerated route in Arizona. She saw flames shooting out from her truck’s tires when she went to switch lanes after passing another vehicle. She hit the brakes and flashers, pulled to the side of the road, and yelled to wake up her husband and dog. After she called 9-1-1, she instantly got on a call to Carter to let her second shift supervisor know what was going on.
A CALL FOR HELP
The fire had started because of an oil leak that had gone undetected. Tonya’s fast response by stopping the truck immediately allowed the fire to be extinguished quickly.
“By the time we got the truck into the dealership, it was pretty late and everything hit me at once about how differently things might have been if I hadn’t seen the fire right away. I was on the phone with Kelly, one of our dispatchers, and I just broke down,” she says. “Carter got us into a hotel that allowed pets, even though it was pricier than the other hotel options, and Kelly even called me back later to check on me.”
A FAMILY OF TRUCKERS
Tonya has seven years of driving experience, two and a half as a Carter Express driver, but she has a lifetime of driver knowledge. She comes from a family of truckers, which includes her grandfather, father, mother, sister and several uncles and cousins. When Tom, her husband, decided to give up his local driving job to go over the road, she decided to quit her job, pack up their miniature pinscher named Max, and join him. After riding along for a year, she felt like it made sense to get her license too so they could drive together as a team.
Over the years of her driving career, Tonya has seen a lot of accidents on the road and has stopped to help others in need many times. There is one particular accident, however, that has stuck in her mind. A driver had rear-ended a truck and was caught in his seatbelt, being choked by it. Tonya and another truck driver ran over to help, cut the driver out of the seatbelt, and stayed with him until the ambulance arrived.
“That was pretty scary, because the truck was leaking diesel and there was smoke coming out of the trailer,” she adds. “I was worried everything would catch on fire.”
THE COMMUNITY AT CARTER
For Tonya, talking about her experiences on the road aren’t just all about the big accidents and close calls. It’s also about acknowledging the friendships she’s made throughout her career too, both at Carter and on the road.
“When you run dedicated routes, you really get to know the customers and truck stop attendants in these places that you stop at every time,” says Tonya. “I’ve made some really good friends. We keep in contact through social media even after my route has changed or they’ve left their jobs and moved on to something else.”
The sights are also a big benefit of the job. Some of Tonya’s favorite locations to drive through are the mountains and desert areas of New Mexico, seeing the bridges in Louisville, Ky., lit up at night, and the Wheeler Dam locks in Alabama.
Even though Tonya and Tom spend a lot of time driving together for work, they like to hit the road during their downtime too. They own an RV and will often travel during their home time. They also have Tonya’s parents who live with them and 11 grandchildren – many who live nearby – to keep them busy. Another perk of being a truck driver, says Tonya, is being able to visit one grandchild who lives out in Phoenix, Ariz.
“Carter has an Arizona route. Whenever I want to go see that little guy, I contact the route planner to see if I can grab one of those runs,” she says. “They also make sure I have that run around his birthday. Carter is really great about getting me there when I need to see him.”
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