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Spirit ride

John Richards of Red Wrecker secures the Spirit Ride casket on the back of a Red Wrecker flatbed before the procession Thursday.

Slow down. Move over.

It seems so simple.

But more than 100 first responders, just about every year, are killed across the nation by motorists who don't slow down and move a lane over when they approach a situation on the highway where emergency lights are flashing.

And according to the National Safety Commission, more than 70 percent of motorists are unaware that in every state, slowing down and moving over is mandated by law.

On Thursday, a nationwide Spirit Ride — designed to honor fallen first responders, call attention to the laws, and remind motorists of their responsibilities to first responders — made a stop in Butte. Sheriff Ed Lester and several members of his force and representatives of the Butte-Silver Bow Fire Department and Montana Highway Patrol attended, along with many tow-truck drivers. The event's Butte stop was sponsored by Red Wrecker.

For good reason.

Jay Richards, owner of Red Wrecker, and his son John have had plenty of close calls on the road. They've had their vehicles damaged. Worse, they've come terrifyingly close to losing their lives.

"I've been hit in the shoulder by passing vehicles' mirrors," John Richards said. "We've had the mirrors of our wreckers ripped off by speeding vehicles."

If their tow trucks or the vehicles they're working on are over the "fog line" on the side of the road, John Nichols said, tow-truck operators are required to put out "wreck ahead" signs well in front of the scene.

"You'd think that would make people slow down," John Richards said. "Actually, it makes some people speed up to so they can see what's happening." Those drivers, he said, are the worst.

"We call them rubberneckers," he said. "They're looking at the wreck instead of where they're going, and that makes them very dangerous."

After a ceremony Thursday morning next to the Civic Center, the ride's ceremonial casket — painted red, white, and blue for patriotism...and black for tragedy — was loaded onto a Red Wrecker flatbed and carried through Butte in a solemn procession of emergency vehicles, including police and Highway Patrol cars, fire trucks, and wreckers.

The casket was built by Mike Corbin, a singer-songwriter who performed "Bless the Spirit Riders," a song he wrote as an anthem for the Ride, at Thursday's event.

About 300 towing companies nationwide are relaying the casket across the country.

For his part, John Richards said he just hopes the ride will increase motorists' awareness.

"It's real dangerous out there," he said.

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