ONTARIO — Nationwide, 10 law enforcement officers were killed last year while responding to vehicles stuck on the side of the road.
The number of tow truck operators killed last year was even more significant — an estimated 40 to 60.
Tom Davis, with the Oregon Department of Transportation, shared this information during a ceremony on Wednesday. The event was designed around honoring those first responders — EMTs, firefighters, police officers and tow trucks drivers, among others — who have lost their lives while responding to cars stuck on the side of the road, as well as providing awareness for the Move Over Law.
Every state in the country has laws requiring drivers to move over a lane while emergency responders are responding to vehicles in the breakdown lane. Oregon, however, took that one step further at the beginning this year by passing an amendment to the law. Drivers are now required to move over or slow down for any vehicle stopped on the side of the road with hazard lights on or showing signs of distress.
The ceremony on Wednesday was provided by Spirit Ride, a nonprofit organization educating and raising awareness for first responders. The group does this through touring the nation with a specially-designed casket symbolically painted and inscribed with images of first responders.
The casket sits atop a dolly that, during a visit to a particular town or city, is loaded onto a tow truck carrier bed after a commemorative ceremony for a procession around that town or city.
The ceremony on Wednesday in Ontario was hosted by Roadrunner Towing, Inc., which also towed the casket around town for the procession. Members of the Ontario Police Department, Ontario Fire Department, Treasure Valley Paramedics and the Oregon Department of Transportation were in attendance. Employees of Les Schwab and Commercial Tire were also invited to the ceremony.
One of the speakers who gave remarks during the ceremony was Sharon Taylor, a dispatcher with Roadrunner Towing who is approaching her 13th year with the company.
“I’ve seen and heard of some nasty things happening to the first responders,” she said.
Taylor reached out to the Spirit Ride group to come to Ontario to raise awareness.
“I had to do it,” she said. “At least to get the word out. I care about all of these guys and I don’t want to see anyone get hurt.”
In addition to Taylor, Spirit Ride command team member Mike Corbin gave his own remarks, as well as played guitar and sang “Booms in the Sky,” a “tribute to the men and women who’ve paid the ultimate sacrifice in working the roadways,” according to the group’s webpage.
According to Taylor, Roadrunner Towing has responded to at least 12 accidents in this year alone.
And, according to Oregon State Police Sgt. Kurt Marvin in his remarks during the ceremony, 71 percent of Americans have not heard of the Move Over law.
Ontario is just one stop on the road for the Spirit Ride, which is looking to hit 160 towns and cities across the country this year. The ride began its journey on June 1, 2017.
As a show of collective effort, Corbin passed off a “ceremonial baton” to the first responders to pass amongst themselves, as a show of the “collective effort of the Spirit Ride.”