GULFPORT -- Two truck stop workers found a truck driver in medical distress after his employer used a GPS locator and an Internet search engine to help find him.
Emily O'Neal and Victor Wilson of the Pilot Flying J Travel Center near Gulfport would later learn the truck driver was parked across the road. They didn't know their actions may have saved the man's life.
The driver suffered a heart attack but is expected to recover, his employer said Tuesday.
"It was scary," O'Neal said. "We just wanted to find him and make sure he got the help he needed."
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O'Neal, of Saucier, is a retail sales specialist at the truck stop on Canal Road just south of Interstate 10. She stocks shelves, handles paperwork and, as happened Friday, helps answer the telephone.
The truck driver is employed by the Franklin Corp., a furniture manufacturer with a terminal in Houston, Miss. His wife had called the company's fleet dispatcher Friday morning to say her husband was sick.
"She was unable to understand him on the phone," said Sonny Scott, Franklin fleet-safety director.
The dispatcher called the driver. He answered his phone but was incoherent, Scott said.
The dispatch team had no quick way to know if anyone had called for medical help.
"A GPS fix indicated that he was in the vicinity of the Flying J at Gulfport," he said.
Scott said he used Google to find the store's phone number and called to ask for help.
He would later find out his driver was not on the Flying J premises, but was nearby.
Searching for the truck
O'Neal said she answered the phone about 9:30 a.m. and Scott explained the situation. She volunteered to go look for the driver and Scott gave her a description of the truck.
Victor Wilson, a Flying J maintenance worker who is also a minister, went with O'Neal.
They walked through diesel aisles adjacent to the Travel Center and didn't see the truck. They looked in the back lot, where truckers park to take their mandatory 12 hours of rest after driving 12 hours, or to shower or eat a meal. They didn't see the truck there, either.
O'Neal and Wilson crossed the busy road and found the truck in a vacant lot next to a Waffle House. Truckers often park at the Waffle House or the empty lot if the Flying J's back lot is full, O'Neal said.
The man was sitting in the driver's seat. He appeared to be having trouble breathing.
"He could barely talk and he was too weak to walk," Wilson said.
"He told us he had gotten out of his truck and planned to cross the road to go eat at Denny's (inside the Flying J), but said he was too weak stand up. He was able to get back in his truck."
O'Neal called 911 and stayed on the line with a dispatcher until an ambulance arrived.
Meanwhile, Wilson prayed for the man, who told them he is 72.
"We reassured him he was going to be all right," Wilson said. Reassurance and prayer often calm people in distress, he said.
"He did," Wilson said. "He became calm,"
When an ambulance arrived, "we stood back and let them do what they do," O'Neal said.
Both said they were relieved to see the ambulance but they were concerned about the man's condition.
O'Neal, in a matter of minutes, called Scott and told him she had called 911. She later called him back with the name of the hospital where the ambulance was taking the driver.
"Much of the credit belongs to her," Scott said.
"We are grateful to all the emergency responders, the staff and physicians at Memorial Hospital, the Harrison County Sheriff's Office and Penske Truck Leasing for their help," Scott said.
Penske, which leases trucks to the company, secured the rig and stored it until workers could retrieve it.
Uncommon common call
It's not uncommon for the truck stop to get calls to check on drivers, to see if they've arrived or left the area, or for drivers to ask for medical help, Flying J Manager Karl Dalrymple said,
"But we've never had a medical condition this serious before," he said.
O'Neal, who's engaged to be married, has worked at the Flying J for two years.
Wilson, married with children, has worked there a total of 10 years, most recently for a six-year stretch.
Both said they've helped people who needed medical attention but rarely hear what became of them.
A couple of times a year, a trucker will send a thank-you card, Wilson said.
"It's a good feeling to know you have helped someone," he said.