An 18-year-old Smithville, MO, tow truck driver was struck and killed while out of his vehicle trying to help a driver with a flat tire on Interstate 35 near the Christopher S. Bond Bridge.
The accident happened in the northbound lanes of I-35, just south of the Bond Bridge about 3:15 p.m. Monday.
It was supposed to be a routine assignment for Blake A. Gresham, a driver with GT Towing out of Smithville, who was responding to a call of a woman with a flat tire near the south end of the Bond Bridge. But it quickly turned into a tragedy.
"The driver was about to winch down the vehicle. He was standing on the fog line in the line of traffic when the box truck came by, and he was struck by the truck," said Sgt. Jeff Cowdrey.
Investigators said Gresham was just finishing hooking the car up when the driver of a box truck hit him. Investigators believe Gresham was killed on impact, and officials say his emergency lights were on when he was working on the tow.
Northbound traffic on I-35 was backed up for several miles as crash team investigators worked the scene and grief-stricken tow truck drivers arrived to show support.
"It is a dangerous job that we do out there," said Joe Meyer with Overland Tow Service.
Meyer is a member of the Missouri Tow Truck Association and the Kansas Motor Carry Association, organizations which stress safety on the job.
Meyer said there is one thing he always does when he is on assignment and that is never turn his back on the traffic.
Jared Inns is the president of the Missouri Tow Truck Association. He said word spread fast after the accident.
"At first I got the phone call. You hope it's not true, number one. What an awful tragedy it was," Inns said. "It was a real tragedy, it hit so close to home."
Gresham, shown in a Smithville High School Yearbook photo during his junior year, worked for the family business, GT Towing.
His very routine call took a tragic turn and it's something tow truck drivers fear every day.
"People need to give us room. We pull up and the tow trucks are usually wider than the cars so you're going to be a little bit wider than they are wherever they park and we can't help that. It's a dangerous situation," Inns said.
Gresham's family, dealing with unimaginable grief, wasn't ready to talk Tuesday, but school officials said he was a great kid who graduated early from high school. They said he was a young man who played football and who will be greatly missed.
Police say drivers need to be mindful of what is going on.
"When you see either an emergency vehicle or tow truck with lights on, it is just common sense to pull over and get away from them," Cowdrey said.
Meyer said that tow trucks are designed to operate on both sides so drivers can avoid traffic.
As for Monday's deadly accident, police said they are still interviewing witnesses and there is no word on when the full report will be released. There is no word at this time on what charges, if any, will be filed against the driver who hit Gresham.
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