HAVELOCK — It’s the law: slow down and move over.
The message, American Towman Magazine believes, should go a long way toward protecting first responders, and it has made the slogan its mission, sending a husband and wife team across the country in a special RV, carrying a symbolic coffin, to remind drivers of what happens when they don’t give emergency personnel the respect and space they deserve at crash scenes.
Mike Corvin and his wife, Ilce, represent American Towman on the goodwill tour called the Spirit Ride that started last June in Massachusetts and has covered some 16,000 miles and 150 cities so far.
“We are honoring the fallen first responders,” Corvin said before their program at Gray’s Towing on U.S. 70 in Havelock Friday morning. He noted that roughly 100 first responders — from police and firefighters to DOT crews — are killed each year by passing cars that strike them, simply because they don’t slow down and swing into the other lane when possible.
Of those 100, 60 are tow truck drivers.
According to law, whenever you are driving and you see a vehicle with emergency lights — blue, red or yellow — pulled alongside of the road, you need to slow your speed and change lanes, if it is clear.
That is not only at the scene of a crash — it could refer to a police officer who has pulled a car over, or a tow truck retrieving a broken-down vehicle as well.
One NCDOT worker on scene stated that he knows of people who have been struck, though not killed, by passing cars.
“The drivers aren’t paying attention,” he said. “They’re on their phones or drunk … It’s the most dangerous spot and you don’t’ even realize it, until you’re standing there and these cars go whizzing right past you at 70 miles an hour.”
Mike Gray, who owns the towing company that hosted the Spirit Ride in Havelock, said he read about it in the magazine and decided he needed to bring them in.
“I decided to join the campaign with these guys because I’ve actually had two trucks struck on the side of the road,” he said. “Fortunately, I have not had anybody injured in them. I have not had to answer that call, but it’s happened too many times. Too many people lose their lives on the highway.”
He added that most people don’t know about the law “until it’s too late.”
The Spirit Ride begins with a 45-minute ceremony in front of Corvin’s RV, which is painted with the “Spirit Ride” logo and illustrations of first responders. A coffin, also painted with scenes of first responders, is displayed while responders attending are called to gather around.
Volunteers join the Corvins in reading memorials and statistics, and Corvin, accompanying himself on guitar, sings two songs honoring responders and describing their home lives.
The gathering passes a symbolic baton around before the program breaks up. Then the trucks form a procession that drives to the location of the next ceremony — in this case, at Jacksonville’s Excel Body Works. Corvin said he would conclude the day with a program in Wilmington.
Friday morning’s program was broadcast live on the Spirit Ride Facebook page.
A dozen or so trucks formed the procession and included Havelock and Harlowe fire departments, a pair of DOT trucks, and tow trucks from several companies including Gray’s, Woolard’s Towing and Transport (from Washington), Roy’s Automotive and Billy Beck Towing and Recovery.