Hans Michael Moore had been with Vulcan Towing for only about six months, but everyone at the company will tell you he was family.
He was a hard worker, a fast learner and had a strong desire to help others, said Jenifer Macalino, who works at the Anchorage towing company.
The normally loud and energetic towing office has been quiet this week, she said. In the early hours of Sunday morning, Moore died on the job.
“You can see it on people’s faces — everyone is just so sad right now,” Macalino said.
On Wednesday night, drivers, friends and family of Moore hugged and wiped away tears after more than 200 tow trucks and commercial vehicles streamed down the Glenn Highway to a memorial gathering in his honor.
In the early hours of Sunday morning, Vulcan Towing was called to the intersection of DeBarr Road and Pine Street to pull a car from the ditch. Police had arrested the driver for operating under the influence, and the disabled vehicle rested off a portion of the road that was closed for water line repairs.
As 57-year-old Moore was loading the vehicle onto his truck at 3:07 a.m., he was struck by a Dodge Journey SUV also driving through the closed portion of the road. Moore was rushed to a hospital but died from his injuries.
Police arrested the driver, 23-year-old Michelle F. Parker, on charges of manslaughter, operating under the influence and driving in violation of license limitation. Because of a former OUI charge, Parker was required to have an interlock ignition system that could detect alcohol consumption and prevent her from driving. Police said she did not have the device when her SUV struck Moore.
When Justin Creech, the owner of Vulcan Towing, received a text message that morning, he jumped out of bed. No one had been able to reach Moore and his truck was at the scene.
Creech said Wednesday that he’s still in shock.
“Probably for the first day I just kept waiting for somebody to call and say ‘Hey, Mike is ready to go, he’s OK,” Creech said. “So it’s been really hard on all of us.”
Moore spent much of his life working in the oil industry, living part time in Alaska, North Dakota and California, Creech said. His primary residence was in Kingman, Arizona, where he and his wife, CorAnn Moore, own a bar along Route 66. Moore would work three-week shifts in the oil fields and then return home for a week to Arizona, Creech said.
When the pandemic began, Moore was laid off from a job in Minot, North Dakota. After a few months of unemployment, Creech and his fiancee, Jessica Summerhays, offered him a position at Vulcan Towing.
Moore was Summerhays’ stepfather, and she said she was overjoyed at the opportunity to spend more time with him. When he flew into Alaska for his three-week shifts, he would live at their home.
When he wasn’t working, Summerhays said, Moore was a devoted grandfather, taking her children to go fishing or play outdoors. Moore was an avid outdoorsman and some of Creech’s favorite memories from the last summer were spent with him casting lines off boats in Seward and reeling in halibut, silvers and king salmon.
Moore had been scheduled to fly home to Arizona on Wednesday.
Tow truck driving is one of the most dangerous jobs in the country, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. From 2011 to 2016, there were 191 fatalities in the industry, or about 43 deaths per 100,000 workers, according to an analysis from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s more than 15 times the rate for all U.S. private industries.
Creech said the danger of the job is often overlooked — people think of police or firefighting jobs as being dangerous but often don’t realize that tow truck drivers are responding to many of those same calls. Drivers regularly brave dangerous road conditions to clear an accident in poor weather along busy highways with cars speeding past them.
Creech said he and his employees regularly hear of accidents throughout the country, but now the danger has really hit home. Creech said he believes Moore is the first tow truck driver to be fatally struck in Alaska.
“It’s brought a new light and a new reality, I think, to everyone,” he said. “They’re all scared, they’re scared of working on the side of the roads, they’re scared of all of it. I’ve got a few employees that their wives want them to find another job because you don’t want to get that phone call. ... It’s a tough position and we risk our lives every day helping the public.”
Laws across the country call for drivers to slow down and move over when an emergency vehicle is stopped on the side of the road, but Creech said that law is often ignored. He said much of the danger in towing comes directly from distracted drivers. Intoxicated drivers also pose a deadly risk.
Macalino of Vulcan Towing said rideshare apps make it easier than ever to find a sober ride. She said Vulcan drivers have even picked up intoxicated people to offer them a safe ride home. Drivers would rather pick them up than respond to a fatal accident later, she said.
After Moore’s death, Vulcan was overwhelmed with support, Creech said — a silver lining during the most challenging time of his life. Local businesses delivered pizzas to the office, sent flowers or called to offer condolences. An online fundraiser has collected donations for Moore’s family.
On Wednesday night, more than 200 tow trucks, large commercial vehicles and pickups lined up in Eagle River and headed out on the Glenn Highway. As the line of flashing lights streamed down the snowy roadway for about a half-hour, horns rang out to celebrate Moore’s life.
Drivers even came from Seward and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough to participate.
The procession met up in the Tikahtnu Commons mall parking lot, where drivers in neon yellow jackets striped with reflective lines shared memories of Moore or paid respects to one of their own.
Commercial driver John Daggett said he hopes Moore’s death will encourage the public to use more caution on the roads. He attended the service to show solidarity with the towing industry.
“In these industries, we all stick together,” he said. “Everybody looks out for everybody else.”
After Creech finished thanking the drivers for their support, the crowd chanted in unison: “Mike Moore!” Although many of the companies are competitors, Creech said, it was obvious that they’re family first.
“Together, we are more powerful than we are by ourselves,” he said. “You guys be safe out there.”