October 30, 2014

Elyria
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Tow truck driver crusades for roadside safety

The death of one tow truck driver and the injury to a second on Ohio highways this weekend has spurred one local tow truck operator to get the word out to drivers to give those providing roadside assistance a wide berth.

“It’s no exaggeration that every night when I go home and open up the ‘tow411’ website, another driver has been hit or killed somewhere on the side of the road trying to do their job,” Dave Vaughn of Vaughn’s Towing said Tuesday.

A 60-year-old Columbus tow truck operator died after being struck by a motorist during an overnight accident on Interstate 71 on Saturday as the tow truck driver was attempting to hook a disabled vehicle to his truck.

On Saturday afternoon, a tow truck driver was struck by a tractor-trailer as the driver changed a flat tire at the side of the northbound lanes of Interstate 271 in Oakwood Village.

The latest fatality and tow truck accident moves Vaughn to put a reminder out there to drivers that it’s the law to move over when a tow truck is on the berm of the road assisting a motorist by changing a flat tire, replacing a dead battery or providing help following an accident.

Vaughn points to the revised 2009 Ohio “slow down and pull over” law, which was expanded to protect public safety vehicles and personnel such as tow trucks.

Vaughn said oftentimes, instead of moving over to give tow trucks and their drivers more room, drivers will move to the inside lane to get a better look at what they’re doing.

“They’re going at 65 to 70 mph, and if a tire blows, or they look down for a second, our life could be gone,” Vaughn said.

With nine children at home, Vaughn is especially keen on staying safe and coming home at night.

Rocky Kelley, vice president of Mug’s Elyria Towing Service, agrees.

He’s seen a number of accidents involving tow truck operators, including one of the firm’s own drivers, who suffered broken vertebrae and other injuries a few years ago when he was struck at Cleveland Street and state Route 57 one winter night.

“It was a bad night,” Kelley said. “A car came down over the bridge and hit a patch of ice and slid into him. He recovered eventually, but he’s not driving anymore. It takes its toll.”

Despite wearing reflective vests and using emergency flashers, accidents still happen, Kelley said.

Kelley agrees with Vaughn that the amber lights used on the backs of tow trucks tend not to catch drivers’ attention.

“I don’t think people have the respect of amber lights as they do for blue and red lights,” Kelley said. “If they see a cop, more than likely they slow down. Amber lights can be Ohio Edison, or the gas company, or anybody out working in the middle of the night.

“We’re not considered emergency vehicles, even though we are,” Kelley said.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.