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Trucker earns national honor for saving local girl

WORTHINGTON -- The quick action of a pair of truck drivers on a South Dakota highway a year ago saved Abby Bern of Worthington from an almost certain fate of drowning.

As a result of their heroism, Richard Filiczkowski was recognized March 27 as the recipient of the 2007 Highway Hero award at the Mid-American Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky. Filiczkowski was honored for pulling the then 8-year-old girl from a submerged 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser.

Filiczkowski, 38, of Bountiful, Utah, was resting in the sleeper compartment of a semi tractor-trailer driven by his wife, Janet, when Janet saw the Bern vehicle leave Interstate 90, travel through a pasture and enter a stock pond near Plankinton, S.D. Janet brought the rig to a stop, and Filiczkowski ran nearly a quarter mile to reach the vehicle.

"I dove right in because I saw Abby pounding on the car's back window," he said. "My only instinct was to get her out of the car as soon as possible. In situations like that, seconds count."

After pulling the girl to safety, Filiczkowski then tried to remove the unconscious Bern from his seatbelt. Soon joined by two other men, they were able to cut the belt with a pocket knife they found along the shore of the pond. Once the belt was cut, Filiczkowski and one of the men worked to free Bern's legs, which were pinned under the steering column. Efforts to revive the 42-year-old pediatrician were unsuccessful.

"I wish I was faster for him," Filiczkowski said. "My only regret: I just wish I was faster."

Both Marty Bern and her daughter, Abby, were on hand for the ceremony in Louisville, and Abby presented Filiczkowski with the plaque and a ring from Goodyear.

"I am very, very thankful that both of them went out of their way to save Abby, and every effort that they did to save Jeff is even more grateful," said Marty Bern on Thursday.

The Berns surprised the Filiczkowskis with their attendance at the ceremony, and Marty said it was an experience she will never forget. Before returning to Worthington on Saturday, she said they spent every minute they could with the trucking couple.

"They are lifetime friends of ours," she said. "I am so grateful for everything they did."

Donn Kramer, director of marketing for Goodyear commercial tire systems, said, "Richard's name is on the award, but his wife and tandem truck driver Janet, is equally deserving. Together, their heroics are truly inspiring. They are a wonderful couple."

The Highway Hero program was founded by The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. in 1983 to recognize professional truck drivers and the often-unnoticed, lifesaving rescues and roadside assistance they provide.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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