‘Spirit Riders’ urge highway safety by drivers of emergency workers

On the day after a California Highway Patrol officer was run down and killed on Interstate-80, a group of tow truck operators and others stopped in Woodland to urge motorists to drive safely.

Called the “Spirit Ride,” the traveling memorial was held at Citizens Towing and attended by nearly 50 tow truck operators, a sheriff’s deputy and others.

The Spirit Ride, promoted by American Towman Magazine and others, basically calls on motorists to follow “Move Over” laws which require them to move aside and protect first responders like CHP Officer and Vacaville resident Kirk Griess, 46, who was killed while stopped on the shoulder of westbound Interstate 80 at the Manuel Campos Road exit.

On Saturday, a procession of several different law enforcement agencies escorted Griess’ body as it was transported from the Solano County Coroner’s Office to the Vacaville-Elmira Cemetery. Memorial service arrangements have not been finalized.

“We hope you all take an extra moment today to pause and remember that life is precious and to keep the Griess family in your thoughts and prayers,” wrote the Vacaville Police Department on its Facebook page. “For all those who stopped today to pay their respects as Officer Griess and his family passed through town, we thank you so very much.”

Griess, a 19-year veteran of the CHP had spent 16 of those years serving Solano County. He was also a United States Marine.

He had been assigned to the Solano area office since January 2002. Prior to that, he worked in the CHP’s Contra Costa and Oakland Area offices.

Friday he was stopped on the shoulder of westbound Interstate 80 at the Manuel Campos Road exit where he had pulled over a Vallejo motorist, 49, who was driving a Saturn sedan.

For an unknown reason, the driver of a three-quarter-ton-pickup truck drove across the freeway and onto the shoulder, striking Griess and the other motorist. The driver of the Saturn also died. His identity has not been released.

Griess is survived his wife, Keri, his two adult daughters, Kadi and Kaci and his son, Kole.

At Citizens Towing — where the Spirit Ride stopped to “trade off” a casket being carried on a tow truck — Mike Corbin spoke about the dangers to first responders while standing next to the casket draped with a banner stating “R.I.P Kirk Griess CHP” created by BoBo Signs of Lincoln. Citizens Towing was receiving the casket from Mama’s Towing in West Sacramento. From Woodland, the procession was scheduled to proceed to Fairfield and other points south with Javier Altamirano of Citizens Towing doing one leg of the driving.


Speaking in a slow cadence, Corbin said Spirit Ride’s mission to “raise public awareness of Move Over Laws” and the danger to first responders. “Since the ride began last year it’s generated publicity … to bring its message to millions of people who get behind the wheel. Today we call out to all motorists: Give us room to work. Would any person work at a desk if his or her back was at the edge of a cliff with no safety net below? Well, on the highway the safety net for first responders is the Move Over Law when obeyed.

“This law requires motorists when approaching emergency vehicles with flashing lights to slow down and move over one lane,” said Corbin, who has been accompanying the casket on a cross state journey. “Yet, according to the National Safety Commission 71 percent of American have not heard of the Move Over Law.

“The Spirit Ride draws attention to the dangers faced on the highways by the men and women of the police, fire, emergency medical and towing services,” he said. “Hundreds of casualties a year are the result of cars or trucks passing too close, sometimes only inches from the shoulders of closed off lanes. Highway workers, utility workers and sanitation workers are also being struck. On average there are 100 fatalities a year among first responders.”

Doug Worrell of Citizens Tow explained that the ceremonial casket was called “Spirit” because it was decorated with scenes of all first responders who face the “peril of the roadway. One scene shows a tow truck operator carrying the world on his back with cars whizzing by. Another scene depicts a state trooper standing near a wrecker during a recovery and there’s a truck bearing down the highway at his back.”

The red, white and blue of the casket represent patriotism and tragedy, Worrell said, “with red representing the blood sacrifice, white the spirit of those fallen and blue the loss to family.”

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