SAN ANTONIO – While he may not have donned a cape and tights, the man clad in a neon-colored uniform Tuesday morning was indeed a hero to Betty Gonzales.
”I got distraught. I couldn’t find my hazard lights,” she said. “I was, like, ‘Oh my God!” Gonzales said.
Gonzales’ moment of panic set in after her car’s rear tire blew out on Interstate 35 as she drove to work.
”My car sounded funny but I thought, “Oh, it’s not nothing.” But then I was exiting off and all of a sudden, boom!,” she said.
Fortunately for Gonzales, it wasn’t long before a friendly face had arrived.
Eddie Hernandez, in the afore-mentioned neon uniform, pulled up in one of the more than two dozen trucks that make up the Highway Emergency Response Operator program, also known as HERO.
”Lots of people don’t have spare tires or even the initial tools to help out,” Hernandez said in describing the reason for the program.
HERO officially kicked off in the San Antonio area Monday, although it began trial runs last week, according to Laura Lopez, a public information officer for TxDOT.
Lopez said the drivers, also known as operators, actually began providing assistance to stranded motorists as early as last Thursday.
As of mid-morning Tuesday, Hernandez said he already had helped about 10 drivers.
He said a typical call can be anything from changing a flat tire to using the flashing road signs on his truck to steer traffic around a trouble situation.
“We actually are surprised when we show up, with the customers thinking we’re law enforcement. But we’re here to help,” Hernandez said.
In all, HERO operators monitor some 239 miles of local highways with help from TransGuide cameras.
When they spot a driver in need, they show up, with no call from the driver required.
”I was not even aware of this, you know, that it was available to us,” Gonzales said.
For that reason, Gonzales said she immediately had arranged with her insurance company for a tow truck to come to her rescue.
She was surprised to see the HERO truck arrive.
While Hernandez wasn’t able to help her with the tire, Gonzales said he did keep her company and also kept traffic away from her disabled car.
Gonzales said she is glad to know that the next time she needs help, there will be a HERO around.
TxDOT said the program, which has been available in Austin for the past two years, is in Phase One of its debut in the San Antonio area.
Right now, service is available Monday through Friday between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m.
However, when it moves into Phase Two in November, the service will be available around the clock, seven days per week.