A symbolic casket had an honor guard escort Thursday that wound through South Amherst with lights and sirens.
Oberlin police and firefighters were among those who joined in solidarity with paramedics, sheriff’s deputies, state troopers, and tow trucks to slowly circle the village as part of the Spirit Ride.
“There’s a wrecker operator killed every six days,” said David Vaughn Jr., owner of D&A Towing. We’re trying to raise awareness of that. Move over, slow down.”
Sponsored by American Towman and B/A Products, the Spirit Ride will make about 200 stops as it travels through 2,000 cities, with about 5,000 vehicles escorting it along the way.
It’s meant to call attention to the roughly 100 roadside fatalities each year across the United States, about 60 of which are tow truck operators.
Vaughn said those in the business have found their lives at risk on country roads, city streets, and highways. “It’s just not Rt. 2. Those small roads are just as dangerous,” he said.
Denny Cole of Interstate Towing, Norwalk, said he experiences a life-threatening encounter about twice each week. “I’ve jumped on the back of trucks. I’ve jumped ditches” to prevent deadly crashes, he said.
A terrifying moment came just a few weeks ago on the Ohio Turnpike.
“All of a sudden, I hear rumble strips. I look up and here comes a semi, barreling right at me,” he said. Cole grabbed hold of his tow truck and tried to tuck himself against it as flat as possible while the semi zoomed by, barely a foot away, easily going 70 mph.
Too often, people see tow trucks on the side of the road and simply don’t care, he said. Drivers are often too busy playing with their phones or radios to notice the emergency vehicles.
“In reality, we’re somebody’s family and we just want to make it home,” he said.
Those words were echoed by the Spirit Ride’s Mike Corbin.
At South Amherst Middle School, he passed a baton among a throng of first responders. Around its base were the words, “Respect the peril. Make it home tonight.”
Vaughn, who’s had many roadside close calls, is the father of 11. “You want to know why I do this? You see them,” he said, wrapping his arms around his kids.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.