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Okla. EMS agency reminds drivers to move over

During a Spirit Ride ceremony, Muskogee County Emergency Medical Service spokeswoman Mechele Cruz shared her experience of almost becoming a roadside fatality

By Cathy Spaulding
Muskogee Phoenix

MUSKOGEE COUNTY, Okla. — Roadside safety is something Muskogee County Emergency Medical Service spokeswoman Mechele Cruz takes personally.

She narrowly escaped becoming a roadside fatality years ago on U.S. 69.

“We were unloading our cot from the back of the truck, when my partner yelled ‘Stop’ and pushed myself and the cot into a ditch,” Cruz said. “Little did I know there was an oncoming truck that was getting ready to hit our vehicle. We later found out that our unit had been hit.”

Cruz shared her experience Thursday morning during a Spirit Ride ceremony, held beside Muskogee Civic Center. Spirit Ride seeks to encourage motorists to “slow down and move over,” to protect first responders and wrecker drivers working by the road.

“This is something that is so important,” Cruz said. “Please pay attention to what is ahead of you. Please do not rubber-neck. Please pull over. Please think about us. We want to go home as well.”

The Spirit Ride ceremony featured a ceremonial casket honoring first responders killed on the roadside. Towing companies across the United States are relaying the casket from wrecker to wrecker to promote the message. Morgan Towing and Recovery hosted the Muskogee ceremony.

Company owner Nik Morgan said he wants to protect people “working the white line” alongside a highway.

“Nationwide, there are more wrecker drivers killed in the line of duty than fire, EMS and construction workers combined,” Morgan said.

He said the main problem he sees is “people just not plum paying attention, not slowing down, carelessness, texting and driving, drinking and driving.”

“They’re putting on makeup. They’re reading a book,” he said. “They’re doing everything but driving—and they’re killing our people that are working the white line.”

Morgan said two Tulsa wrecker services had workers killed by motorists.

“Story Wrecker was about 10 years ago. Allied Wrecker was about four months ago,” he said.

He said he hoped the ceremony raised awareness of Oklahoma’s “Move Over” law. The law, passed in 2015, requires motorists to pull over to another lane when approaching a law enforcement or recovery vehicle working accidents, or highway maintenance crews on the roadside. If there are no passing lanes, drivers must slow to a safe speed.

Ceremony participants observed a moment of silence and passed a baton filled with pebbles, to help people remember lives lost. One end of the baton features the words “respect the peril, make it home tonight.”

The ceremony attracted area wrecking crews, including Steven and Kim Vowell of Henryetta Wrecker.

“We just want people to slow down out there and stay safe,” Steven Vowell said.

After the ceremony, a convoy of wreckers, fire trucks and law enforcement vehicles escorted the coffin—at least partway—to its next destination.

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