Tow operators 'light up' to honor one of their own, bring awareness

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Members of the towing service industry gathered Tuesday to honor the life of Bonifay resident Corey Reynolds and to raise awareness about the importance of Florida’s Move Over Law.

About 30 tow trucks, some from as far away as Pensacola, met at the Tractor Supply store on Highway 77 in Chipley to run their lights as a show of respect for Reynolds and to remind the public that the law doesn’t just apply to law enforcement, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel. In addition to “lighting up” the night, tow operators joined Reynolds’ friends and family in observing a moment of silence and a balloon release.

“We want them to know we’re here,” said Josh Rudd, owner of Absolute Towing and co-organizer of the event. “Corey’s death could have been prevented. It was something that shouldn’t have happened. Every one of us out here have had close calls.”

Reynolds, 18, was killed Friday while changing a flat tire with a roadside service truck crew. According to a preliminary investigation by the Florida Highway Patrol, Reynolds was on the emergency shoulder of the westbound lane near mile marker 110 in Holmes County when he was struck by a 2012 Hyundai driven by a 41-year-old Alford woman after the car traveled off the roadway and onto the rumble strips. FHP states the woman when oversteered the car back onto the roadway, it began to rotate as it traveled across both westbound lanes of Interstate 10 and onto the emergency lane. The car then collided with the rear of the pick-up truck Reynolds was standing behind and killed him at the scene.

While move over laws were first put in place with emergency responders such as law enforcement officers, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel in mind, a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found the motor vehicle towing industry reported a death rate more than 15 times the rate for all U.S. private industries.

Reynolds’ family and friends say he will be remembered as being a “kind and gentle soul.”

“He just loved everyone,” said Reynolds’ mother, Heather Darby. “He would do anything for anyone, no matter what time of day they called him with a need.” Darby added that Reynolds’ love for automotive service began at a young age, leading him to work in the industry. “He has been fixing things since he was ten years old,” she said. “He was a self-taught man when it comes to the mechanic shop and could work on anything from a small engine to a diesel engine. He had no fear that he couldn’t go in and fix the problem. “

James Russell, Reynolds’ friend and boss at Moonlight Auto and Diesel, says he hopes Reynolds’ death will remind motorists to take the law seriously.

“Corey was the kindest, sweetest person I ever met,” said Russell. “I hope this brings attention to people all over the world, but at least in our community and our area. As much as we all loved Corey, I hope that we learn a lesson as a community to be mindful of the things that are going on. I’ve had many close calls; I think everyone in this business has. But we lost him, and we lost him too soon to something that could have been prevented.”

“It’s sad that people lose their life because other people know better but still ignore the law and the fact that there’s people there on the roadway,” he added. “How can you care so little about someone who is there doing a simple job, yet one that is one of the most dangerous jobs in our country? We have people dying on the roadway every day because other people just don’t pay attention.”

Tim Jernigan, owner of ASAP Towing and another of the organizers of Tuesday’s event, said the response from area tow operators is a testament to the spirit of support and unity found in the towing service community.

“These trucks get maybe 4 to 5 miles to the gallon, and with gas prices being what they are, the fact these guys came from miles away to be here tonight says a lot,” said Jernigan. “There’s no competitors here tonight, only fellowship.”

Florida law requires motorists to move over a lane for stopped law enforcement, emergency, sanitation and utility service vehicles, tow trucks or wreckers, and maintenance or construction vehicles with displayed warning lights. The law states if a motorist cannot safely move over — or when on a two-lane road — they should slow to a speed that is 20 mph less than the posted speed limit or slow down to 5 mph when the posted speed limit is 20 mph or less.

According to Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV), there have been 1,406 crashes where a driver was cited for failing to move over for an emergency, sanitation or utility service vehicle between January 4, 2015 and April 25, 2022. Of those crashes, there were five fatalities and 1,282 injuries, with 106 of those injuries being listed as serious or incapacitating. Reynolds is the 26th emergency responder to be killed from being struck while rendering aid in the United States this year.

A GoFundMe account has been set up for the family and can be found at here.

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