The life of Woodson Metellus, then 18, was forever changed when his father, Arnold Metellus, a 59-year-old Haitian immigrant who lived in Boynton Beach and worked as a Road Ranger, was standing next to a disabled vehicle at 1 a.m., Oct. 26, 2014 near the Palmetto Park Road exit northbound Interstate 95
In one moment he was a hard-working husband, and father to a high school student.
In the next moment, he was gone — struck by a Jeep Grand Cherokee while standing along the highway. The driver responsible for the fatal crash left the scene.
“I’m 18 years old, but every son needs his father,” Woodson said at the time.
It’s those tragic moments that inspired The Spirit Ride, a year-long, nationwide public awareness campaign for “Slow Down, Move Over” laws.
On Friday, the pilgrimage through more than 200 cities across the country, came through Palm Beach County with stops in two places — West Palm Beach and Metellus’ hometown of Boynton.
The Spirit Ride, which began April 11 in Winston-Salem, N.C., included a procession of tow trucks, emergency vehicles and the 8-foot long casket on a flat-bed of a tow truck used to symbolize those who died in roadside crashes. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, 33 tow truck operators were killed while attending to stranded drivers in 2014.
Supporting the cause in Boynton Beach were several members of local tow truck companies, along with members of the Boynton Beach Police and Fire Departments.
“My family owns a couple businesses, towing companies, and in the past, we’ve actually had a lot of fallen first responders,” said Joseph Morgado of Zuccala’s Wrecker Service in Boynton Beach. “Every year there are hundreds of first responders including tow truck drivers, police officers, firefighters, emergency medical services who get killed on the roadway due to the public’s lack of awareness of this law.”
“Slow Down, Move Over” laws exist in all 50 states and require vehicles to move over one lane, or slow down, when approaching a roadside incident aided by tow truck drivers or first responders.
Statistics, cited in a release from Spirit Ride, show a tow truck driver dies on average every six days, and that 71 percent of Americans are unfamiliar with “Slow Down, Move Over” laws. Through the work of events like the Spirit Ride, first responders are beginning to see a spike in awareness.
“Some people are starting to realize that it is a law,” Boynton Beach Fire Dept. Capt. Johnny Canela said. “I do see a little bit of the awareness increasing.”
Despite progress, attending to roadside incidents still presents a life-threatening risk.
“My worst fear is a call on I-95 were I can’t get off the road quick enough,” said Boynton Beach Firefighter and Paramedic Kevin Cox. “I’ll go into a fire any day of the week, I’ll jump into a ditch to help somebody with no fear at all, but going on 95 is scary.”
The collaborative effort between law enforcement and those who organize the Spirit Ride, in its second year, has helped the event reach a wider audience.
“Some people don’t respect the amber lights, they just respect the blue lights, so when you have everybody together, fighting for the same cause and spreading the campaign, it makes the message stronger,” Spirit Ride Command Team member Ilce Corbin said.
It’s an important message that requires the public’s cooperation, because a mistake on the roadway around those who place themselves in harm’s way effects more than just the person standing along the road.
“I understand it’s frustrating for some drivers, but we need the space to be safe ourselves and get home to our families,” Cox said.