Towing company workers have something in common with first responders: They arrive to car crash scenes and see the same wreckage and destruction viewed by law enforcement, firefighters and EMTs.

Often, Andrew Mobley with B&S Body Shop said he has no idea what’s waiting for him at the scene. It could be someone he knows. It could be a fender bender or a fatal crash, and he’s been to both.

Mobley has cleaned up the scene where a motorcycle rider was decapitated; a driver accused of running a red light had the car shattered by a bus; and a fatal crash involving a 19-year-old girl and an 18-wheeler.

“You try to put it in the back of your head when you’re out there,” Mobley said of dealing with tragedy.

He remembers every fatal crash he’s ever been on the scene of, including those where he’s had to flip an overturned car with someone still inside of it so EMS workers are able to get to them.

“It takes a strong person,” he said. “It takes dedication.”

The average person couldn’t handle the types of scenes Mobley and other wrecker drivers respond to regularly, he said.

“It’s something that you never forget,” he said.

A moment’s notice

Local companies on a rotation are called to the scene of crashes across Onslow County and have just 30 minutes — without the benefit of sirens or exceeding speed limits — to reach the crashed car, Mobley said.

Tow truck drivers take advantage of the lights on top of the truck’s cab, Mobley said, but even with horn honks and hand signals, most drivers don’t move out of their way.

Mobley runs B&S Body Shop, which was owned by his grandfather Buddy Hewitt before his death in January. His grandmother owns it now, and Mobley works at the shop from sunup to sundown.

The body shop is on rotation to help at crash scenes for the City of Jacksonville, Highway Patrol, and Camp Lejeune, he said, and responds to 10 to 15 crashes each week.

The shop is also the only one with a contract with North Carolina to seize all vehicles in Onslow County who either flee from law enforcement or who the state requests a seizure for after a driving while impaired charge, Mobley said.

Mobley said B&S Body Shop also tows crime scene vehicles, like those found with drugs inside or vehicles involved in shootings, for law enforcement.

Mobley’s been towing vehicles for more than a decade, starting at the age of 16.

He has to be ready to go at a moment’s notice whether the call comes in mid-day or he’s woken up by a late-night ring on his phone.

He remembers his grandfather rushing off to scenes as he grew up, missing events and family dinners.

“He was one of the hardest working men you’d ever meet,” Mobley said. “He lived his life (at the shop) and basically that’s what I’m doing.”

It doesn’t matter if Mobley just sat down to dinner with his wife and children; when the call comes, they have to pack it up and leave. He’s mentally on the job 24-hours a day.

“When they call, we go,” he said.

Clearing crashes

“Our main job is to make sure the road is safe and clear,” Mobley said.

Minor crashes take him an hour or less to clean, he said. Fatal crashes, because law enforcement has to document so much, can take up to six hours.

Once they’ve gotten the vehicle back to the shop, it can sometimes sit there for months, Mobley said. If the car is totaled and the driver was at fault, sometimes the insurance company takes care of the other car involved and the body shop is stuck with the pieces of the driver’s wreckage.

Mobley said they have to obtain the title of the car before they can do anything with it, which sometimes involves paying $500, including court costs, just to get rid of it.

Walking through the shop’s backyard with cars in varying stages of damage, Mobley pulled up photos on his phone and pointed out some of the crashes he’d cleaned recently where debris covered the roadway.

It’s important to clean up the road completely and as quickly as possible to prevent other crashes from happening, said Trey Dorn, another wrecker driver with B&S Body Shop.

The force of impact can create a lot of debris at a crash site. It’s why Jeff Attridge with Eastside Auto Salvage said drivers should never put anything in the back windshield — the force of impact during a crash can shove all of it to the front of vehicle.

The workers have seen a lot of different debris at crash sites in Onslow County. Mobley said at one crash where an allegedly drunk driver rammed into the side of a vacant house, the tire flew off and went about an eighth of a mile down the road where it hit a parked car.

The car battery in another alleged drunk driving incident was found 100 yards from the crash site, Mobley said. In one of the damaged cars in the body shop’s back lot, an upside-down blue travel coffee mug was stuck inside the engine. It was stuck so forcefully that it stayed even as the car flipped over twice.

Mobley said he takes and keeps photos of crash scenes to show his children the dangers on the road. It’s so easy to be distracted, and it can be life-changing, or life-ending.

Getting home safe

Scrapes, bruises, and danger are a part of their jobs as well.

Pointing to a healing wound about an inch long in his hand, Attridge said a piece of glass got him.

At the scene, Mobley said he’s always focused on getting the road cleared as quickly as possible, so he often finds himself lying on top of glass in the road to get a hook into the inside of a vehicle. His knees are cut up most often.

Wearing thick gloves, Dorn maneuvered around one car to get a hook in place to flip it. Coming down, the driver’s-side window hit a lever on the tow truck and glass rained down on the truck and the ground around it, bits of mud and grass sticking out of the bent hood on the passenger side.

Drivers have to keep an eye on moving traffic, too, Attridge said. Holding his hands less than a foot apart, he said cars have passed by that close to him while he worked on a scene.

They’re on the road for sometimes hours at a time maneuvering a vehicle to get it on the truck and clearing the road to help other drivers, Mobley said. But like those who ignore their blaring horns and lights on the way to the scene, some drivers are seemingly oblivious and come close to causing another tragedy.

Often if he sees another wrecker parked, whether it’s at a crash scene or just towing a broken-down car, Attridge said he’ll park his personal vehicle partially in the road behind the truck to force traffic into the next lane and protect the people standing on the side of the road.

“We want to go home to our families too,” Attridge said.

RESOURCE LINK