Saying Goodbye to Fred
By Randall C. Resch
(The California Highway Patrol escorts Fred Griffith's 4-axle heavy-duty as the 110-tow truck procession heads over Mission Trails Summit.)
On Feb. 23, 2017, heavy-duty tow operator Fred Griffith was killed working the shoulders of Highway 52 in San Diego, Calif. Who would ever have imagined his life would be cut short based on the safety message he preached so strongly?
Having completed attaching all safety gear and extension lights, Fred was stowing his wireless controls in the rear box of his wrecker when an alleged DUI motorist drove onto the shoulder and fatally struck him. The motorist attempted to flee, but was apprehended by an off-duty officer a short distance from the crash site.
Fred gave his life helping others, and he put himself in harm's way in the way tow operators do.
As heavy-duty supervisor for RoadOne San Diego, Fred was known throughout Southern California as a talented tow operator who had solid recovery skills for even the most difficult recoveries.
On March 11, a crowd of well-wishers, towers, law enforcement and more than 110 tow trucks and vehicles, gathered at RoadOne's corporate offices as a means to honor Fred. With perfect weather, participants arrived to see two flags hanging gloriously between three heavy-duty wreckers: one flag providing backdrop for the stage and another stretched across the roadway for participants to drive under as they headed toward Highway 52.
We were held to an exact timeline in meeting the rollout plan. Guests were greeted with refreshments while signing a guest book that included personal messages to Fred. The CHP held a safety briefing to ensure towers drove the route safely and with a measure of dignity.
Promptly at 10:45, I made opening statements on behalf of RoadOne San Diego, introducing our speakers to include eldest son, Mike Griffith (representing the Griffith family), CHP Officer Jake Sanchez, Richard Cochran, who represented the Congressional Medal of Honor Survivor's Fund and retired Lt. Joe Torrillo of the New York City Fire Department on-behalf of 911 survivors, first responders and America's Patriot Flag. Also present were David and Joe, Mike's younger brothers.
The Circle of Life
It's strange how we seem attached somehow by blood, misfortune or circumstance. For five years, the massive Patriot Flag has been on tour across America. Because San Diego has strong ties to the military community, it was befitting that the flag's last stop would be the Santee Fire Department before returning to New York.
Because of the towing services Fred provided relating to flags, people, places and events, the Patriot Flag toured throughout Southern California. If the flag truck experienced mechanical problems, RoadOne Towing was called to tow them. At one point, the fire department was transporting the flag and needed assistance. Fred Griffith, known as "05-Sam," a police designator for supervisor, arrived in his massive quad-axle 9055 to tow the disabled fire truck.
As a long-time resident of Santee, Fred cemented a relationship between himself, Santee's firefighters and the flag. Hearing of Fred's death, the fire department immediately stepped forward along with Torrillo, offering to present the Patriot Flag along the procession's route.
As the rolling procession made way to eastbound Highway 52, the eight-mile, police-escorted convoy of tow vehicles made its way past the crash site. There, a single wreath of white flowers surrounded a picture of Fred with his sons. Participants were surprised by the enormous 30'x56', 70-lbs. flag as they crested the Mission Trails Summit.
While every tow truck procession has its own special character, the Patriot Flag gave to us a deepened sense of American pride and spirit. Perhaps it was the firefighters saluting our procession and Fred's heavy wrecker that gave me shivers. I simply know that, whenever I see an American Flag, I'll forever remember Fred and the selfless acts that cost him his life.
Randall Resch is American Towman's and Tow Industry Week's Operations Editor, a former California police officer, tow business owner and retired civilian off-road instructor for Navy Special Warfare. Randall is an approved instructor for towers serving the California Highway Patrol's rotation contract. His course is approved by the California law enforcement community. He has written over 500 industry-related articles for print and on-line, and is a member of the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame.