Wreck exposes gaps in towing program

February 26, 2008 9:06:24 AM PST
The Safe Clear program was launched three years ago to help get disabled cars off of Houston highways in order to keep traffic moving and prevent accidents. But this morning's fatal accident on the Katy Freeway shows that not all of our local highways are covered.The fog had not yet lifted Monday morning. It was about 5am on a stretch of the Katy Freeway just east of Blalock. Because of the road work, there is no shoulder here.

Investigators say a driver stopped in the far right lane to change a tire when he was rear-ended by another vehicle. It was a minor wreck. Police say the woman from that second vehicle got out and stood behind the guardrail.

As the initial driver kept trying to work on his vehicle, an 18-wheeler struck the two from behind. Police say the driver who was trying to fix his flat was thrown 60 to 70 feet. He died at the scene. The victim has not yet been identified by authorities.

The wreck happened in an area outside Houston city limits, though surrounded by Houston. It's in the city of Spring Valley -- an area not patrolled by safe clear wreckers.

Jeanette Rash is owner of a Houston wrecking company called Fast Tow, and is a major proponent for Safe Clear, the city of Houston's system of having tow trucks on the road and available to aid motorists who get stuck much like the driver did this morning.

She said, "Any incident management program, to be successful, must be a regional program. There's no question about that."

Rash says Spring Valley city leaders opted not to be part of that program.

"All I know is that the program does work," she said. "It does reduce accidents and that's what this is considered."

Spring Valley's mayor Michael Andrews says the city elected not to be a part of Safe Clear because they wanted control over how people were treated and where their cars were taken. While calling what happened here a tragedy, Mayor Andrews told Eyewitness News, "We just think we can do a better job of handling it."

No one has been able to say at this point if a Safe Clear wrecker might have been able to save that man's life, had one been close. It's unclear if he called for a wrecker himself or, if he didn't, why he did not.

Authorities take this opportunity to warn you never to change a tire or work on your car in the middle of the freeway. So if your car breaks down on a Houston freeway, here is what the Safe Clear program means for you.

  • Any motorist who stalls or experiences a flat tire who is not in a moving lane of traffic has the option of receiving a free tow to a destination of their choice within one mile of the nearest exit.
  • If the motorist has a flat tire and a good spare, the tire will be changed for free, as well, if the motorist wants.
  • However, if a tow results from a police investigation, like for an accident or an arrest, or if the vehicle has been abandoned, the tow fee will be the city rate, currently $143.50.
  • If you spot a disabled car, or need help, you can call 311.

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