Florida Trucker Pinned Under Semi Near Indianapolis, Almost Freezes to Death

Tom Davies
Published: January 10, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS — Tim Rutledge's eyelid had frozen shut. His voice was hoarse after competing for hours with bitter-cold wind and humming truck engines while screaming for help. He was losing consciousness, pinned under his rig in sub-zero temperatures at an Indiana truck stop.

The longtime Florida truck driver had crawled under his truck with a hammer to loosen ice from his brakes around 4 a.m. Monday, as record-breaking temperatures swept into the state. But the truck suddenly settled deeper into the snow, pinning him beneath an axle.

The 53-year-old was trapped, helpless as his cellphone rang dozens of times in a coat pocket he couldn't reach. It had been about eight hours. He feared he was near death.

Then his phone suddenly toppled from his pocket, its vibrating ring enough to finally wiggle it free. He was able to scoop it up with his right hand inside a frozen glove, use its voice dial to call a company dispatcher and muster a quiet plea for help.

"I said 'Whoever this is, don't hang up on me because it's going to be the last time that I'll be able to call. I can't call out and I can't answer the phone,'" Rutledge said Thursday, recalling his experience as he sat in a leather armchair at IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.

Doctors said his body temperature was so low when he arrived at the hospital that just one more hour likely would have been fatal. Yet he was released from the hospital on Thursday and planned to fly back home to Orlando, Fla., with little more than numbness in his left hand and side where the axle had pinned him.

(PHOTOS: Deep Freeze Grips the U.S.)

Rutledge noted that the phone calls from his wife, Lisa, began soon after he missed making his typical early morning check-in with her.

"I used to think it was kind of a hassle, but I always called her just so she knew where I was at," he said. "I won't take her for granted now. She saved me."

Rutledge had been driving a load from Florida when he stopped Sunday evening at the truck stop, less than an hour away from his destination. As he slept in his cab, several inches of snow fell and temperatures plunged. He woke up to frozen brakes.

(MORE: U.S. Navy Helicopter Crash Update: Search for Missing Sailor Called Off)

Steve Moseley, a dispatcher with First Coast Express of Jacksonville, Fla., said he feared the worst after numerous calls to Rutledge went unanswered. Moseley answered Rutledge's call for help Monday afternoon, and said his voice grew quieter during their conversation until it dimmed to a whisper.

"At one time I called out to him and he didn't say anything," Moseley said. "That scared me a bit."

His trucking company called the truck stop and emergency workers were summoned to search for him as temperatures dropped to more than 10 below zero in the area, with wind gusts of 30 mph leading to wind chills of negative 35 or colder.

(MORE: Alaskans Offer Tips on Surviving Below-Zero Temps)

It took time for workers to find his semi amid the sea of parked trucks at the Pilot Travel Center in Whiteland, just south of Indianapolis.

By the time he reached the hospital, Rutledge's body temperature had fallen to about 86 degrees.

Dr. Timothy Pohlman, a trauma surgeon who treated him, said another hour outside likely would have been fatal for Rutledge. But he said being under the truck likely shielded him somewhat from the dangerous wind gusts.

"I think just the fact that he had to crawl under a semi to figure out why he broke down in a way forced him to do what is taught in a lot of survival courses for people who have to work in extreme environments," Pohlman said.

Pohlman said Rutledge, who somehow emerged without any frostbite injuries, should fully recover.

(VIDEO: How to Avoid Frostbite This Winter)

Rutledge said he was lucky to be alive.

"There was another hand in this," he said. "If my phone would've dropped the other way, I could never have called anyone. If it (the truck) would've sunk any farther, I wouldn't have had a need to call anyone."

MORE: January 2014 Freeze

St. Louis

St. Louis

Snow and ice are seen covering up Mississippi River and downtown St. Louis Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014. (AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

  • St. Louis
  • Indianapolis
  • Indianapolis
  • Baltimore
  • New York City
  • Cleveland
  • Tallahassee, Fla.
  • Roswell, Ga.
  • Hornbeak, Tenn.
  • Arlington Heights, Il.
  • Daphne, Ala.
  • Dauphin Island, Ala.
  • Chicago
  • Chicago
  • Chicago
  • New York City
  • New York City
  • Detroit
  • Detroit
  • Atlanta
  • Fairfax, Va.
  • Columbus, Miss.
  • St. Louis
  • Chicago
  • Chicago
  • Chicago
  • Chicago
  • Chicago
  • Chicago
  • Chicago
  • Chicago
  • Chicago
  • Chicago
  • Fargo, N.D.
  • Fargo, N.D.
  • Paducah, Ky.
  • Paducah, Ky.
  • Nashville
  • Detroit
  • Detroit
  • Detroit
  • Detroit
  • Detroit
  • Chicago
  • Chicago
  • Chicago
  • New York City
  • Indianapolis
  • Indianapolis
  • Lecompton, Kan.
  • St. Louis
  • Marietta, Ga.
  • Philadelphia
  • Albany, N.Y.
  • St. Louis
  • New York
  • St. Louis
  • Washington D.C.
  • Washington D.C.
  • Chicago

Ad Blocker Enabled

Featured Blogs

Hurricane Warning for Hawaii, a Watch for Florida; TD 9 Headed Towards NE U.S.?

By Dr. Jeff Masters
August 30, 2016

With a tropical depression expected to strengthen on Wednesday in the Gulf of Mexico, the National Hurricane Center (NHC] has issued a Hurricane Watch for the Florida Gulf Coast from the Anclote River to Indian Pass, and a Tropical Storm Watch for the Florida Gulf Coast west of Indian Pass to the Walton/Bay County line. The expected system could sweep near the mid-Atlantic and New England coast over the Labor Day weekend. Meanwhile, a Hurricane Warning is in effect for Hawaii's Big Island as Hurricane Madeline approaches.

Hottest Reliably Measured Air Temperatures on Earth: PART TWO

By Christopher C. Burt
August 19, 2016

In my previous blog I discussed the various contenders for what might be the hottest reliably measured air temperatures on Earth. That blog focused on those that were most likely not reliable for various reasons. In this blog I will briefly list those that I believe to be the most reliably measured. This takes into account such factors as climatology (general and specific to the sites at time of observation), properly exposed instrumentation, and good correspondence with other temperature observations in the vicinity of the record-breaking site(s).

An extraordinary meteorological event; was one of its results a 1000-year flood?

By Stu Ostro
October 5, 2015

The confluence of meteorological ingredients the first weekend in October 2015 resulted in an extraordinary weather event with severe impacts. Was one of them a 1000-year flood?

Why the Arrest of a Science-Loving 14-year-old Matters

By Shaun Tanner
September 16, 2015

By now, many of you have heard or read about the arrest of Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old high school student from Irving, Texas. Ahmed was arrested because school officials called the police after he showed one of his teachers his homemade clock. Mistaken for a bomb, Ahmed was taken into custody, interrogated, shamed, suspended (still on suspension today, Wednesday), and reprimanded. All of this after it has been found that the "device" he brought to school was indeed, a homemade clock.