On July 1, 2021, as many Canadians were celebrating the national holiday, Shilpa Patel received the kind of visit no one expects – and no one would ever want.
It was late in the afternoon when two York Region police officers arrived on her doorstep in Maple, Ont. with news she had already begun to dread throughout the day: Her husband, Ashish Patel, 46, was killed as he attempted to rescue occupants involved in a serious collision on I-81 in West Virginia.
“My daughter was trying to call him several times that morning and every time she called, she said ‘dadda is not picking up the phone,” Shilpa recalls. “I thought, ‘he would never do that. He would never not answer.’ Right away, it went into my heart; something is wrong.”
watch Ashish’s story and his family and colleagues describe the great man he was:
At that moment, police in West Virginia were trying to sort out the events of the horrific tragedy. Police say there were two separate crashes near the entrance ramp to I-81. There had been heavy rain that morning. The first crash occurred when two passenger cars lost control, hydroplaned, and struck a parked tractor trailer, getting wedged underneath the trailer. Patel and another truck driver, Adam Miller, 53, of Hagerstown, Md., stopped their own trucks and hurried across the highway to help. Once on scene, they were able to extract the occupants of the two passenger vehicles and lead them to safety. But, as the two truckers waited on the side of the highway for police to arrive, a third vehicle also lost control as it approached the area and then hit Patel and Miller. Both men died almost instantly.
In a media release that day, Sheriff Nathan Harmon said the incident was one of the worst he had ever seen in his career. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the pedestrians involved within this accident whom, by their own drive to do the right thing and help those in need, sacrificed their lives to help others,” Harmon wrote.
For his incredible actions, Patel, who drove for Bison Transport in Mississauga, Ont., was honoured posthumously with the Ontario Trucking Association-Bridgestone Truck Hero Award last night at the OTA’s 96thannual conference in Toronto. His wife, Shilpa, was present and accepted the award.
“When I think of Ashish and Adam, who were both helping, I think of how both their names start with the letter A,” she says. “A is for ‘angels’ and God made two angels.”
Patel will be remembered by his family, colleagues, and countless friends as a professional, dedicated truck driver and a gracious leader in Vaughn’s South Asian community.
Shilpa adds he was a great ambassador for the trucking industry. He loved being a truck driver, she says, and would convince many of his friends to get their commercial licenses and learn about the industry.
“He always encouraged people. If someone was looking for a job, he would always say ‘if you are young, drive a truck. It will help you have a good life … he was the Canadian dream.”
Around the terminal, Ashish was always seen to have a huge smile on his face and was often available to help and provide guidance to anyone who wanted it.
“It’s just simply who he was,” says Bison general manager, Dave Martin. “He never second guessed the need to help others. It was that trait that he carried with him day in and day out and it’s why he was so loved. But unfortunately, it also resulted in the tragic accident that happened and the loss we have that he’s not here.”
After announcing the award last night, Jim Devlin, national Fleet Account Executive for Bridgestone Canada, admitted this Truck Hero presentation was one of the most emotional he’s given. “There really aren’t words to describe the heroic and dramatic actions of Mr. Patel. He embodies everything this honour is meant to be. His courageousness, selflessness in the face of an emergency will never be forgotten.”
When notified of the award and an opportunity to tell Ashish’s story on video, Shilpa says she was honoured but conflicted with many competing emotions.
“I feel so proud. My daughter … will be proud. But the missing piece for is still day-to-day life. That is still empty.
“But I know Ashish is listening right now. He’s trying to comfort us and he is guiding us … so this (award) is a gift that he is giving us.”