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OTA honors top driver, industry champion, and highway hero

The Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) has distributed its top honors for 2022, recognizing a top driver, longtime industry partner, and a highway hero.

Don Dunbar of Tandet Group, a 40-year industry veteran, was named 2022 OTA-Volvo Trucks Canada Truck Driver of the Year. The self-described “gear head” has traveled nearly 3 million kilometers without a preventable collision.

Working his younger years in the oil drilling industry, he later began driving with FedEx and then as a liquid bulk hauler.

Don Dunbar, Tandet
Don Dunbar of Tandet Group, a 40-year industry veteran, was named 2022 OTA-Volvo Trucks Canada Truck Driver of the Year. (Photo: John G. Smith)

“When I was an operations manager in the drilling business, I used to drive the float once and while and the whole time I was thinking, ‘my happy place is on the road. The phone doesn’t ring. You turn on your tunes and away you go,” Dunbar said. “So, in the back of my mind I always thought, ‘can I do this? Can I really make it in the trucking world?’ Eventually I just did it and I couldn’t be happier.”

“When we celebrate the Truck Driver of the Year Award, we celebrate an award that recognizes things that are very important to the industry. Yes, they are typically very safe over a significant period. But as importantly, they are individuals that give back to their community, and that community is widespread. They are people who others depend on, whether it’s at work or at home. Don exemplifies all those things,” said Tandet president Scott Tilley.

Brad Thiessen, Freightliner
Brad Thiessen, Freightliner vice-president and general manager (Canada) secured the 2022 OTA-Solera-Omnitracs Service to Industry Award. (Photo: John G. Smith)

Service to Industry

Brad Thiessen, Freightliner vice-president and general manager (Canada) secured the 2022 OTA-Solera-Omnitracs Service to Industry Award that recognizes an outstanding contribution to the trucking industry.

The Winnipeg native was drafted by the LA Kings and played with the Toronto Marlies in the late 1970s, before helping run is father Edgar’s truck dealership. He then moved to Ontario to work for various equipment suppliers, managing Freightliner Mid-Ontario in the 1990s and then taking the VP of Freightliner Trucks Canada.

Ashish Patel
Shilpa Patel accepts the Highway Hero Award on behalf of her husband, Ashish, who was killed while helping other motorists involved in a highway crash. (Photo: John G. Smith)

Highway Hero

Bison Transport driver Ashish Patel was honored posthumously with the Ontario Trucking Association-Bridgestone Truck Hero Award for his efforts in helping to rescue people 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,” said his wife, Shilpa, who accepted the award. “I thought, ‘he would never do that. He would never not answer.’ Right away, it went into my heart; something is wrong.”

Police say there were two separate crashes near the I-81 ramp. The first involved two passenger cars that hydroplaned and crashed under a trailer. Patel and another truck driver, Adam Miller of Maryland, stopped their own trucks and led the passenger vehicle occupants to safety. But as they waited for police to arrive, a third vehicle lost control and hit them. Both died almost instantly.

Said Shilpa: “When I think of Ashish and Adam, who were both helping, I think of how both their names start with the letter A. A is for ‘angels’ and God made two angels.”

“It’s just simply who he was,” said 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.”

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