BILLINGS — On Oct. 25, 2020, a vehicle struck two Hanser’s tow truck drivers near Columbus, claiming both of their lives. This Wednesday marks three years since that tragedy.
National Move Over Day is an important reminder for drivers to pay attention and slow down.
When you work on the side of the road, you have to be aware of your surroundings constantly.
“You have to definitely keep your head on a swivel. Sometimes it feels like they’re not watching for you, and you’ve got to watch for them. It feels like sometimes I’m being aimed at,” said Carl Midgley, the captain of the Huntley Fire Station, on Wednesday. "I’ve been on wrecks where car’s wrecked trying to avoid you. I’ve watched it happen, especially in the wintertime. It’s just, it gets to be wild out there."
Vehicles flying by at high speeds pose a threat to those workers.
“Especially in my position when you’ve got other people that you’re responsible for. They have a job to do and you’re trying to watch out for them,” Midgley said. “They get pretty close and that gets pretty scary."
Wednesday will be the three-year anniversary of the day two Hanser's tow truck drivers were struck and killed near Columbus while working on the shoulder of I-90. Ever since, volunteers across the state have been working to modify Montana’s Move Over Law.
"The Move Over Law was initially put in place in 2001. In the tragedy of October 2020, with the two Hanser’s tow operators that were killed. We were able to modify and enhance the law with stricter penalties. But there were some grey areas, and we also wanted to get utility workers and all highway workers all under the same code," said Jerry Prete, the regional training manager for MSU Fire Services Training School and the vice president of Move Over Montana, on Wednesday. “It covers utility workers, highway workers, construction zones, law enforcement, fire and EMS, and tow operators. So it covers a wide variety and it’s important."
Move Over Montana is a nonprofit that provides money for people to receive training and equipment related to roadside safety.
"It started as a Facebook page, and then after the Hanser’s tragedy we merged into a nonprofit," Prete said. "We were in the middle of our large fundraiser to actually put out a Move Over plate. And then what the nonprofit will do is, it provides money for people to go and travel and provide training. We will give grants to fire departments so they can buy equipment. That license plate will be important to us and our plan is to hopefully roll it out the next time they allow the plates."
Hanser's believes the law is crucial to ensuring the safety of its tow truck operators.
“The important part of slow down, move over is everything has changed. Traffic has changed, speed has changed, and people being distracted has changed greatly. For our people and for everybody who is an emergency responder, all of those factors play an unbelievable role in safety. And the second one of those is compromised, someone's distracted, somebody's going too fast, high traffic areas, it becomes very risky," said Spence Hanser, one of the Hanser brothers, on Saturday. "Unless you’ve ever been on the side of the road and experienced what it’s like having somebody come by too fast, compromise a safe zone, you can’t put it into perspective and you can’t put it into words. It is unbelievably scary for everybody."
Spence Hanser, one of Shel's brothers, said this was an especially important reminder as next week, Billings might see some snow.
“Snow’s coming. Watch out for the snowplows because they’re going to be pushing some heavy, wet slush, so look out for the guys,” Spence said on Saturday. “It’s awareness. It’s making sure the motoring public understands where we’re at, what we’re doing."
Saturday marked National Move Over Day.
“This day’s all about awareness. We will recognize Nick (Visser) and Casie (Allen) on Wednesday with a moment of silence company-wide. Again, awareness and remembrance. When situations like that happen, if everybody learns and we grow, then we can move forward,” Shel said. "I think that I would speak for everybody who does work on the side of the road, whether it’s emergency response, construction, I mean we are begging people to respond to this movement. To slow down, to move over. Again, those behaviors, they have no idea the effect that has on the scene and the safety for everybody. It’s just critical. It’s all about awareness, it’s all about understanding."
On Saturday, MTN News hitched a ride with one of Hanser’s tow operators, Jim Belanger, to get a first-hand look at what he deals with on a daily basis.
“Every time you’re out filming (accidents) or talking on your phone, you are putting all of us in danger and yourself," Belanger said on Saturday. "So please, slow down and move over.”
Although many cars did move over for the tow truck, none seemed to slow down. That proved the day is necessary to spread awareness of the movement.
"As a tow truck driver, I would ask the motorists here, for all tow truck drivers and emergency personnel, to please slow down and move over," Belanger said. "Give us our safety and let us go home to our family at nighttime. We have wives, we have children that want to see us come home safely."
To learn more about Move Over Montana, click here.
To learn more about Montana's Move Over Law, click here.