April 24, 2014

Elyria
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During foul weather, towing’s a risky business

ELYRIA — There probably are very few people on the road who feel less safe than a tow truck driver, Dave Vaughn Jr. says.And he should know.

Vaughn, 31, owner of D&A Towing in South Amherst, had a runaway car smash into his tow truck in February on state Route 2 at the Middle Ridge Road ramp.

“Cars are blasting by you at 65 to 70 mph. All it takes is one tire blown out or one pothole to knock them right into us,” he said.

Other trucks owned by Vaughn and his family have been hit on state Route 113 and Annis Road, he said.

He said the danger is always there, whether he’s replacing a tire on the berm or removing a demolished car from the road after a major crash. But the frequency of roadside problems jumps every December when bad weather hits, and Vaughn finds himself looking over his shoulder during every call.

Dave Hall, 45, of Hall’s Towing in Avon, had his own close call the day after Thanksgiving.

He was helping a car that spun off Interstate 90 when a vehicle spun off the icy pavement and hit both Hall’s tow truck and an Avon police car.

“It’s crazy,” Hall said. “Anything could happen at any moment. We know it’s part of the job, but that doesn’t make it any easier.”

Roadside perils

Unfortunately, Vaughn and Hall’s stories are pretty common, said Harriet Cooley, director of the Towing & Recovery Association of America.

Between 50 and 70 towers — at least one a week — are killed each year in the line of duty, Cooley said.

The same number of police officers die in roadside crashes each year, but tow drivers rarely get the same level of attention or sympathy, she said.

That’s why her organization dedicated a plaque in Chattanooga, Tenn., last September that lists 94 tow truck drivers who were killed, including three who were killed in Ohio.

The industry also started a fund to raise $500,000 for the families of tow drivers killed while working, she said.

It’s possible that thousands more are injured, Cooley said, but very few small, family owned towing companies report such incidents to her agency. Locally, no statistics are kept as to the number of accidents involving tow trucks.

Butch Tomazine, 61, of Fritz’s Garage in Lorain, requires his tow drivers to wear light clothing and reflective vests to make them more visible to motorists.

“People don’t pay attention. They are fighting a snow storm and icy roads at 70 mph and talking on their cell phones. You can lose control real fast that way,” Tomazine said.

Move over, slow down

Tomazine, Hall and Vaughn all say drivers need to be more careful when they see a tow truck’s flashing lights.

So does Ohio law, which requires motorists to move into the next lane, slow down and yield to a stopped tow truck the same way they must for an ambulance or other emergency vehicles.

State troopers aren’t afraid to write tickets for drivers who ignore that law, and that can mean a big drain on the wallet because fines double when an emergency vehicle — tow trucks are classified as such — is involved, according to the Ohio Revised Code.

That means motorists need to stay off their cell phones while driving, stop messing with the radio, and stop shaving and applying makeup, the towing company owners said.

“There are a lot of lives on the line out there,” Vaughn said. “We’re the last people on the scene of an accident, and I just wish people realized that we have families, too.”

Contact Jason Hawk at 653-6264 or jhawk@chroniclet.com.