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Extra business comes with risk for tow trucks

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The day after the storm didn’t bring a break for tow truck drivers, who spent more than 12 hours pulling drivers out of ditches and snow banks.

After the snow stopped and the roads generally were cleared, the calls for help didn’t stop. Thursday morning, tow truck companies began getting calls from people who had stayed home during the blizzard, and now their vehicle was stuck in their snow-covered driveway.

This week’s blizzard brought so many calls to tow truck companies that the typical wait time of 20 minutes went to two hours or more. And at least one company decided the risk of getting its trucks stuck wasn’t worth it and turned down the extra business for the day.

Local tow truck drivers said the southside and Johnson County were hit hard, especially in areas farther south.

Hix Wrecker Service had its busiest day when the storm hit Wednesday with more than 100 calls — more than three times its normal day — including about 18 calls from Franklin. Most calls were from drivers who had slid off the road in Prince’s Lakes or along State Road 135 in southern Johnson County and vehicles that tried and failed to get to truck stops on Whiteland Road off Interstate 65, according to wrecker driver Don Lafollette and Hix vice president Gail Neal.

Others said the day after the storm was the busiest day. They started getting calls from local residents who hadn’t left home on Wednesday, and when they tried to go to work or run errands on Thursday, their vehicles were stuck in their driveways, said Bob Noel, owner of A-1 Noel Towing.

Both Neal and Noel said Johnson County streets and roads were the most difficult to navigate, compared with other areas, including Indianapolis. Tow truck drivers had to be especially careful when driving around snow-packed neighborhoods not to get their vehicles stuck, they said.

“Once we get stuck, we’re stuck. There’s no way for us to get our trucks out without somebody coming to get us,” Noel said.

That risk outweighed the opportunity for extra business for a Center Grove area towing company.

Mike Branam, owner of Mike’s Towing, received more than a dozen phone calls from drivers who had gotten stuck on Wednesday. His company typically handles repossessions and customer service for local car dealerships, and he didn’t want to risk either of his vehicles getting stuck or being hit by other drivers.

“I just didn’t want to get out. The visibility was nil, and the chances of getting a truck stuck in a ditch and having to get a pullout yourself is just not worth it,” he said.

Lafollette, who typically takes calls between Franklin and the south county line, received his first call at 8 a.m. Wednesday. Except for one two-hour break, he worked until 1 a.m. Thursday. Navigating the roads was a challenge, he said.

Snowplows and salt crews took longer to remove the snow and ice because they had to get around other drivers on the road early Wednesday. As the day went on and more snow fell, Lafollette struggled more on the roads, including along neighborhood streets.

Typically, when Lafollette receives a call, he tries to get to the caller within 20 minutes. But Hix customers were told to expect waits of up to two hours, Lafollette and Neal said. But if any drivers received a call from a person or family stranded with nowhere warm to wait, one of the business’s 20 wreckers closest to the car was dispatched to help, they said.

Most of Noel’s slide-off calls Wednesday were from people who had left for work when the weather was fine and were sent home early when the snow and winds were at their peak, he said.

This weekend’s forecast calls for more snow, but Noel said he doesn’t think the storm and its impacts on drivers will be as severe as it was Wednesday.

“If we only get less than an inch, I don’t think it’s going to affect things a whole lot,” he said.

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