Driving his 18-wheeler along the same stretch of highway every day, Mike Johnson has become pretty familiar with the roughly 300 miles of landscape.
That’s why a bright white flash coming out of the ditch near Laddonia on Missouri 19 caught his eye at 4 a.m. July 13.
“It was like a white paper towel or something blowing in the wind,” Johnson said.
When his vision focused, he realized it was a 18-month-old boy wearing nothing but a diaper.
With the hours he’s on the road, as early as 2 a.m., he said he watches for drunk drivers or odd items laying in the roadway. But seeing a child was disturbing.
Being close to his own son, Jacob, who graduated from California High School in 2014, Johnson said, “I was going to do what I was going to do.”
As the frightened toddler carrying an orange sippy cup under his arm climbed from the ditch, Johnson immediately stopped his truck and put on his flashers to warn other drivers.
“It was 4 o’clock in the morning, and nobody was around,” Johnson said. “I did what I had to do.”
He watched the child run down the side of his truck on the roadway then across the highway into the Casey’s parking lot. Eventually, the child calmed down enough for Johnson to pick him up.
That’s when he called local law enforcement and waited for their arrival.
With hundreds of miles left in his work day, Johnson, who has been driving trucks since 1992, said he turned off his electronic duty log to stay with the situation as long as it took.
Eventually, he made it to his morning stop in Muscatine, Iowa, where he picks up cornstarch food ingredients for Ruan Transportation Management Systems. Not only was his boss understanding and supportive of his decision, but the Truckload Carriers Association named him a “Highway Angel” on Jan. 18.
Ruff Yokley, Ruan transportation manager, said: “Mike’s attentiveness for always scanning for anything that might come out of the darkness and his experience expanding his view saved the life of this toddler.”
“I just did what I would’ve done whether I was in a car or truck,” Johnson said.