ALLEN — After his shift ended the morning of Feb. 3, snowplow operator Johnny Meade III went home and didn’t mention anything about what had happened that day.
But, as he was surprised to find out Friday, quite a few people from Floyd County to Frankfort had taken notice.
Meade, 21, of Pikeville, was treated to a surprise luncheon Friday, at the Department of Highways maintenance garage in Allen where he works, during which a host of dignitaries paid tribute to his actions that snowy morning, which many say saved one woman’s life.
On Feb. 3, Meade was operating his snowplow along Route 194, nearing the end of a 12-hour shift. That’s when he noticed tire tracks leading off the road and over the hillside, but he didn’t see any tracks or footprints leading away from the area.
Meade stopped his truck and got out to investigate. After scaling a 14-foot embankment covered in five inches of snow, what he found was that a vehicle driven by Billy Crider Jr. had skidded off the roadway and overturned.
Crider, 49, was killed in the accident, but his wife, Danita Gayheart, was still alive and trapped inside the truck.
Meade radioed for help, then went back to wait with Gayheart until police and ambulances arrived.
Officers who worked the scene have since said Meade quite possibly saved Gayheart’s life. The wrecked vehicle in which she was trapped was not visible from the roadway and the rapidly falling snow of that morning was quickly obscuring the tire tracks that served as the only evidence an accident had occurred.
On Friday, Meade was congratulated by his coworkers. Chief District Engineer Mary Westfall-Holbrook was on hand to present Meade not only with a framed letter of recognition from Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock, but also a Senate resolution sponsored by Sen. Johnny Ray Turner and Sen. Ray Jones II and a House resolution sponsored by Speaker Greg Stumbo and Rep. Leslie Combs, honor Meade for his heroism.
“Whereas … His vigilance, endurance, and bravery led the life-saving efforts heroically performed that day; now, therefore, be it resolved by the Senate of the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Kentucky: The Senate proudly joins citizens across the entire Commonwealth in commending Johnny Meade III for his courageous service,” the Senate resolution reads.
Meade was also presented with an order by Gov. Steve Beshear, naming him a Kentucky Colonel, and Judge-Executive R.D. “Doc” Marshall was on hand to name him an honorary Floyd County judge-executive.
“There was a tragedy there, but it could have been a worse tragedy had the actions Johnny took not been taken,” Marshall said. “So, I applaud him and his family.”
For his part, Meade downplayed his actions.
“I really don’t think it’s an occasion for celebration,” Meade said. “Any of these guys that I work with would have done the same thing. I appreciate what everybody has done, but I know that anybody that’s working beside of me would have done the same thing I did.”
But Westfall-Holbrook said Meade deserved all the accolades he received.
“He could have left them, if he wanted to, but he didn’t,” Westfall-Holbrook said. “He stayed with that lady until state police got there and until the ambulance got there. I really admire that bravery, and that’s what we’re here for today, to honor that bravery.
“I told the secretary of transportation about it and I’ll be honest with you, I him this as well. I have a 21-year-old son and I would be so proud of him if I knew he had done something like you’d done. To see that shows the caliber of people we have working here at the Transportation Cabinet. I am very honored to be your chief district engineer and very proud of what you did.”