Florida TSA inspector heroically pulls driver from burning semi

Monday, November 22, 2021
Florida TSA Surface Inspector Tim Knox. (Photo courtesy of Tim Knox)

A TSA surface inspector put his own life on the line to heroically pull a semi driver from a burning truck on a busy northern Florida highway.

Tim Knox was driving with his family on I-10 from Jacksonville to Tallahassee when he suddenly spotted a tractor trailer careen off the road, slide across the grass median and two other lanes before flipping on its side, crashing into a wooded area and bursting into flames. It happened near Live Oak, Florida.

Instead of driving by, Knox, who serves TSA’s Surface Operations in the Jacksonville region, stopped and leapt out of his car to help the driver while his wife called 911.

“As [the truck] crossed the median, we were going down the highway toward it,” Knox recalled. “I then pulled into the median, crossed the east-traveling traffic and ran toward the truck.”

At that time, a small fire had started, but it was about to get bigger.

Overturned semi along I-10 near Live Oak, Florida. (Photo by Tim Knox)
Overturned semi along I-10 near Live Oak, Florida. (Photo by Tim Knox)

“As I ran down to the semi, I yelled, ‘If anybody can hear me, you need to get out, because the truck is on fire.’ I couldn’t open the driver side door, because the fire had now gotten so high, so I then ran around to the passenger side of the semi and yelled again. This time, I heard a voice yelling back. I then climbed up the front fender, onto the hood, and saw an arm waving out of the [broken-out] windshield. I grabbed for the arm and started pulling the person out.”

After several tries, Knox successfully pulled the driver out. They fell off the hood of the truck with the driver landing on Knox as they safely hit the ground. However, they weren’t out of the woods yet.

“By this time, the whole cab was engulfed in flames,” said Knox. “So, I told her, ‘We need to get up and get out of here.’ I then helped her up the hill to a van that was sitting on the side of the road.”

The semi driver told Knox she lost control of her truck when her front left tire blew out.

Knox believes the woman would have died in the wreckage, so he put thoughts of his own safety aside.

“At that moment, I didn’t think about my personal safety and danger,” said Knox. “It was just instinct for me to rush in and help.”

Semi crash along I-10 near Live Oak, Florida. (Photo by Tim Knox)
Semi crash along I-10 near Live Oak, Florida. (Photo by Tim Knox)

Knox was shocked that no one else on the scene was willing to help.

“I saw many people standing on the road when I brought her up, and still, nobody would help walk her up,” he emphasized.

Knox believes TSA’s situational awareness training came into play during the rescue.

“The recurring training TSA does is very helpful,” he said. “It keeps these types of incidents sharp in your brain. I am 55 years old and have served this country in the Marine Corps and as a police officer, so to me it just comes as second nature.”

Knox’s heroic actions drew praise from TSA leadership in northern Florida. Assistant Federal Security Director for Inspections Desi Gurule said, “There is no doubt Tim’s quick reaction and instinct saved the driver’s life.”

“I am not a hero,” Knox exclaimed, “just a person who would jump in and help their fellow man. I never wanted to be recognized as a hero. I was just there at the right time and by the grace of God was able to help somebody live to see another day. The whole incident is humbling to me.”

By Don Wagner, TSA Strategic Communications and Public Affairs