A caravan of tow trucks, utility and transportation vehicles, and other first responders escorted a ceremonial casket through Williams on Thursday to remember the more than 100 police officers, firefighters, emergency medical personnel, roadside workers and tow truck operators that are dismembered, paralyzed, or killed by motorists each year while providing roadside assistance.
The ornate casket, named Spirit, zigzags across the U.S. as a campaign to raise awareness of laws in place in all 50 states that require passing vehicles to move a lane over or slow down when approaching an incident where tow operators and first responders are working.
The Spirit Ride ceremony, which was held at the Williams Fire Department, on Aug. 9, drew attention to the dangers faced on the highways of the men and women of police, fire, medical, and towing services.
“Hundreds of casualties a year are the result of trucks passing too close or cars passing too close, only inches from where work is being done,” said Singer/Songwriter Mike Corbin, who travels cross-country with the casket and conducts the ceremony. “Highway workers of the (Department of Transportation), utility, and sanitation workers are also being struck.
On an average, there are 100 fatalities a year among first responders; 60 percent of them are tow operators.”
Corbin said the Spirit Ride is a grassroots effort to draw attention to slow down, move over laws so that motorists are reminded to give first responders room to work on the side of the road.
“Would any person work at a desk whose back was to the edge of a cliff with no safety net below,” asked Corbin. “Along the highway, the safety net for first responders is the move over law, when obeyed. This law requires motorists approaching flashing lights to slow down and move over one lane, yet according to the National Safety Commission, 71 percent of Americans have not heard of the move over law.”
The ceremony, in addition to being a public message campaign, serves also as a memorial to those killed on the nation’s highways. According to the Federal Highway Administration, roadside casualties doubled in 2017, largely due to alcohol, drugs, and districted driving, including texting and talking on the telephone, which prevents motorists from recognizing potential hazards until it’s too late for them to slow down or move over.
The red, white, and blue casket, used in ceremony, represents their sacrifice, and has painted scenes that represent all first responders and the perils of the roadways. Once symbolic scene shows a tow operator, with hook in hand, carrying the world on his back with cars whizzing by. Another shows a state trooper standing near a recovery with a truck bearing down the highway toward his back.
The casket sends a powerful message, said Richard Selover, who participated in the ceremony.
“We are here to pay tribute to the men and women who work among us that did not make it back home; who did not return,” Selover said. “We choose to honor them by remembering their sacrifices, and by doing what we can to protect the white line. This is the mission of the Spirit Ride.”
At the staging site, Joel Sanders, of Sanders Heavy Towing, who organized the Williams event, transfered the casket from tow operators from Anderson. Following the ceremony, he took it to Sacramento, escorted by vehicles from Selover’s Towing, of Colusa, Brambauer Towing, of Orland, Caltrans, and other local first responders.
The following day, California Highway Patrol officer Kirk Griess was hit and killed by a passing truck on westbound I-80 in Fairfield in Solano County during a traffic stop. The driver of the stopped vehicle was also killed, the CHP said.
The 2018 Spirit Ride will stage in about 20 other California cities before traveling through Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado by mid-September, and will concludes in New Point, Ind. on Oct. 16. “It takes a collective effort to change the driving habits of a nation,” Sanders said at the ceremony. “This is but one leg of the ride that began on June 1, 2017, in Haverhill, Mass. Last year, Spirit Ride relayed in 140 cities, large and small, across America. When the ride ends this year, Spirit will have relayed in 300 cities with an escort of some 10,000 tow trucks, fire trucks, EMS, and police vehicles.”
The Spirit Ride, founded by American Towman Magazine and B/A Products, is a project of American Towman Spirit, Inc., a non-profit 5013c corporation. The campaign, which includes media outreach and expenses of the traveling command vehicle, relies entirely on corporate and individual donors.
Escort services by tow operators and first responders are volunteered.
For more information about Spirit Ride, or to donate, sponsor, or find an event, visit atspiritride.com.