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 subzero 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 at IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.
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.
Rutledge’s 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.
By the time he reached the hospital, Rutledge’s body temperature had fallen to about 86 degrees. Doctors said just one more hour in the cold 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.