EFFINGHAM — The last thing Steve Hibbard expected on his Dec. 30 trip to Indianapolis was a flat tire. What could have been a disastrous situation was avoided with the help of an Illinois State Police District 12 trooper.
Hibbard, who was traveling to Indiana with his father from their Arkansas home, was driving on Interstate 70 when his front passenger side tire blew around 4 a.m. The two were on their way to see Hibbard’s grandmother who was being treated at an Indianapolis hospital.
They decided to pull over on exit ramp 160 after searching on the internet for the nearest Walmart as Hibbard said he did not have a jack or other tools to change the tire. The Effingham store was approximately a mile from Hibbard’s disabled vehicle, so Hibbard said he and his father decided to walk there.
The Hibbards began walking back to the truck after purchasing a jack and four-way tire iron and tried to hitch a ride for the last mile of their trek.
“On our way to Walmart, there was a gas station, and we tried to get a ride since we still had a mile back to our truck after the first trip to Walmart. We asked two different people that turned us down,” Hibbard said.
When the two returned, they realized they didn’t have the right tool to release the spare tire from its cables. Hibbard said he decided to make the second trip alone because his father has heart problems.
That’s when Hibbard said he spotted Illinois State Police District 12 Trooper Andy Rath. In a December Facebook post, Hibbard described his initial encounter with Rath.
“As I got to Walmart, I saw (Illinois) State Trooper Andy Rath sitting in his patrol car. I asked if he wouldn’t mind giving me a ride back to the truck, saving me from a mile of cardio. He agrees without hesitation,” Hibbard wrote in the post. “We get back to the truck, and the blade breaks, so he gives me another ride to Walmart. He stays the whole time and makes sure we got back on the road.”
Rath said he did not think twice about giving Hibbard a ride and monitoring traffic while he and his father changed the tire. Rath said he assisted the Hibbards partly because he hoped someone would do the same for him or his family.
“I try to put myself in the position where if that’s my family stranded on the road or a friend that’s stranded, I’d want the trooper or the officer to treat them with respect and the way I’d want to be treated,” Rath said. “That’s the good part about the job. You don’t realize how much of an impact that you have on people.”
Hibbard snagged a photo with Rath before departing for Indiana, which he included in his “thank you” Facebook post to Rath.
The 11-year ISP veteran said the kind deed was nothing out of the ordinary for a state trooper.
“This is just what we do. I’ll tell you what though. I will never forget them,” Rath said of Hibbard and his father. “That’s what we’re here for. We want to be there to help people.”
Rath said Hibbard did not call 911 because he didn’t think a blown tire was an emergency. However, Rath said if a driver needs that type of assistance, he or she should call for help.
ISP District 12 Safety Education Officer and Media Liaison Trooper Tammy Welborn said Rath’s act of kindness is just one of many examples of ways troopers assist the public beyond enforcing the law.
“On any given day, our troopers can be found assisting drivers who are having a rough day with a broken-down vehicle. Even on a mild day, you can see a sense of relief come to their face when they see a trooper walk up to the window to provide assistance,” Welborn said. “Whatever the trouble — flat tire, out of fuel, dementia, mechanical issues, medical issues or a crash — troopers are there to help them figure out the next step.”
Rath agreed, saying assisting motorists with something as small as a flat tire is something any one of his co-workers would do. He said it’s just a part of the job.
Hibbard said he will forever be grateful for the assistance Rath provided him and his father in their time of need.
“I’d just like to thank him again because I know that being an officer is mainly a thankless job. There are so many good deeds and actions out there every day that go unnoticed,” Hibbard said.
Kaitlin Cordes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-347-7151 ext. 132.