More than 25 local tow-truck drivers made a solemn lap around Beaufort on Thursday to honor two friends killed in a weekend crash on Interstate 95 and to urge drivers to obey a law designed to prevent such fatal accidents.
The drivers gathered at a parking lot on Parris Island Gateway to begin a procession of tow trucks that crept along a route from the lot to Anderson Funeral Home, where a wake for Denise Peeples Smith, 55, and Phyllis Amsler Cook, 52, was held Thursday.
Smith, the owner of East Coast Recovery, was killed Saturday near Coosawhatchie when the roll-back wrecker she was using to remove a car from the northbound emergency lane of I-95 was struck by a pickup truck that veered off the road.
Both vehicles struck Smith and Cook while they stood beside the wrecker, according to the S.C. Highway Patrol.
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Cook was killed instantly. Smith was taken to Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah where she later died, according to the Jasper County Coroner's Office.
Cook had been riding in the tow truck that night to keep Smith, her longtime friend, company, relatives have said.
The pickup driver, James Thomas, 61, was transported to Colleton Medical Center in Walterboro with non-life-threatening injuries.
Amanda Smith of Carolina Auto Trim said the procession Thursday was to remind drivers to obey South Carolina's "move over law" and honor the two women.
"Some of us were related to them so, in some cases, they were actual family, but they were certainly part of our towing family," Smith said. "We do have a law in this state that requires drivers to move over for emergency or service vehicles, but not everyone does."
According to state law, when drivers see an emergency or service vehicle on the shoulder, they must change lanes, or slow to "a safe speed" if changing lanes is impossible or unsafe.
Smith said tow-truck drivers responding to disabled vehicles on the interstate and elsewhere face dangerous conditions.
"It's scary," Smith said. "It doesn't even have to be in a 70 mph zone like on I-95. You could be in a 50 mph zone and people go blasting past. It's dangerous. These guys are putting their lives at risk to perform a public service. That is their office out there. We want people to please slow down and move over when you're going through their office."
Separate funeral services will be today for Cook and Smith at the Carl Anderson Memorial Chapel, according to obituaries for the two women.
Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/ProtectServeBft.