Tow truck drivers from across Sacramento and the Bay Area gathered in Dixon on Thursday to honor the life of a fallen comrade and to raise awareness of California’s “Move Over” law, a measure to protect such workers on the road.
More than 50 people attended the memorial service to honor Michael “Mikey” Bower, who was hit and killed by the trailer of a passing big rig Feb. 23 while stowing equipment after his flatbed tow truck broke down that night on Highway 50’s Pioneer Bridge.
The event started Thursday morning when drivers met at the Dixon Walmart and then traveled in a procession to Octavio’s Towing for the service with their lights flashing.
Bower, 29, who worked for Octavio’s Towing for nearly two years, was described during the service as a devoted family man.
“He was very hardworking. He was a great father,” said Bower’s wife, Jaime. “He loved me and his kids, he’d do anything for us.”
Bower, 31, first met her husband about seven years ago through a friend. They lived in Dixon and with their daughters, Sophia, 3, and Emma, 11 months old.
Bower’s boss, Octavio Portugal, said Bower worked two jobs to support his wife and daughters.
“Michael was a kind, humble, hardworking guy,” said Portugal, who recalled that Bower liked video games and taking his daughters to the park. “He was a really family-oriented person.”
On the night of Bower’s death, Portugal helped repair the truck, which broke down near the Jefferson Boulevard offramp, before leaving Bower to stow the highway safety triangles.
Bower was cleaning up when he was struck by the big rig’s trailer. His body was found hours later when a California Highway Patrol officer stopped to find out why the tow truck was still on the bridge.
The tow truck was stopped so close to the white line along the side of the road that Bower must have been standing in a traffic lane when he was hit, according to the CHP, which is still searching for the driver.
Mike Lockwood, a general manager at Folsom Lake Towing, said he didn’t know Bower but he came to the memorial service to show his support for the family and solidarity with his fellow tow truck drivers.
“What we do is we save people along the roads, and the motoring public are in too big of a hurry to pay attention to us out on the road,” Lockwood said. “This is the fifth (memorial service) I’ve been to in three years.”
The procession was organized by Portugal and Jennifer Schmeltz, co-owner of TC Towing in Elk Grove.
“I would want somebody to do this for my drivers, for me, for my husband.” Schmeltz said.
Schmeltz said she hadn’t met Bower but thought it was important that he be remembered and important to remind the public about the “Move Over” law.
“We have a really dangerous job being out here towing cars,” Schmeltz said. “I felt that he deserved that kind of respect. To let it go undone just didn’t set well with me.”
California’s “Move Over” law requires drivers to slow down and, if safely possible, move out of the lane closest to a stationary emergency response vehicle that is flashing its emergency lights. This includes tow trucks and Caltrans vehicles flashing amber warning lights. Violating the law is punishable by a fine of up $50.
The president of the California Tow Truck Association, Terry Warford, said that since Jan. 1, at least two truck drivers have been killed, including Bower, and one injured. Nationwide, there is an average of 60 tow truck driver deaths per year, he said.
Portugal said he thinks most people don’t realize how dangerous it is for tow truck drivers to respond to accidents on highways.
“We have no control over what happens with our lives out there because someone might come too close and hit us,” he said.
Call The Bee’s Ellen Garrison at (916) 321-1006.