Tow trucks could be seen as far as the eye can see along the 401 on Wednesday afternoon. It was all to show solidarity with a fellow tow truck driver who died on the job.
Todd Burgess was recently killed when he was hit by a car while trying to help another driver out of a ditch.
“We’re here to raise awareness and [to] give Todd the ride he deserves to his final resting place,” said long-time driver Daniel Steinhauer, who works for McCracken Towing.
He said that although this particular event was a big one, it’s actually a tradition for tow truck drivers to give their peers their last ride every time there is a death while on the job.
Drivers from companies across the region and the province hit the highway, taking Burgess’ truck on one final ride from Pickering to Bowmanville for his funeral service.
“When something like this happens, it really hits close to home,” said Gavin Longhurst, who knew Burgess. “It’s especially tough for my family. They’re always telling me I need to get out of the business.”
Burgess was killed last week while helping a customer out of a ditch on Highway 12 near Port Perry.
Police said a driver lost control and the vehicle hit Burgess while he was winching a car. They also said speed is believed to be a factor in the crash.
Burgess’ boss, Matthew Tuach, said it has been a rough go ever since, but seeing the response from drivers from all over was amazing.
“I know he’s looking down and I know he would be very impressed and happy that this many people made it out for him today,” Tuach said.
Burgess, who was 56 when he died, was well-known in the area. He previously worked as a taxi driver in Port Perry and was dubbed the unofficial “mayor of Port Perry” by locals because of his warm and friendly personality.
“He’d give you the shirt off his back if you needed it,” Longhurst said. “He knew everyone and was always friendly.
“He’s just an all-around awesome guy,” said Burgess’ friend Brad Fenney, who helped organize the event. “It’s sad. It really is sad.”
Some of the drivers who attended Wednesday’s tribute to Burgess told Global News they themselves have been involved in accidents or near misses on the job.
“It was heartbreaking,” Steinhauer said as he reflected on Burgess’ death. “My wife called me as I was working the same day.
“We really do need this.”
Wednesday’s ride saw the topic of job safety get brought up by some of the tow truck drivers.
By law in Ontario, drivers are supposed to slow down and move over when they see emergency vehicles, including tow trucks. Some of the tow truck drivers at Wednesday’s ride said they hope that message sinks in for drivers.
“We’re here putting our lives on the line,” Steinhauer said. “We’re trying to help those that are stranded, [so] give us the space we deserve.”
Longhurst, who is new to the industry, said when drivers see a truck on the road, there is something they need to remember.
“I don’t go speeding through your office at 100 kilometres an hour, right? Just give us five minutes,” he said.
A GoFundMe page was set up to help the family with funeral expenses. In just a few days, donations had already far surpassed the goal of $10,000.