Tow Truck drivers gather in Muskogee to honor life of John Mills and push for change

MUSKOGEE, Okla. — An urgent plea from the owners of Oklahoma tow truck companies just six days after Oklahoma Highway Patrol (OHP) says John Mills was killed after being struck by a vehicle while assisting a stranded motorist by trying to load their car onto his wrecker parked on the shoulder of US-69 just south of Wagoner Saturday night.

The memorial service for the 31-year-old tow truck operator will be held at Timothy Baptist Church in Muskogee on Saturday at 2 p.m., followed by a final run back to the yard at Red Beard’s Towing main location at 2781 W. Peak Boulevard.

There will be signage posted on the wreckers reminding Oklahoma drivers to move over.

Red Beard’s Towing, a locally owned company has launched its own grassroots effort on behalf of tow truck operators to educate the public about the importance of Oklahoma’s move over law.

Being a tow truck driver is a dangerous job, one that puts the men and women who out there trying to help others in harm’s way according to tow truck operators we spoke with on Friday.

FOX23 News also reached out to Bryan Albrecht, the president of Oklahoma’s Wrecker Owner’s Association. He said three tow truck operators have been killed while working on the job, and five others have been injured in the past five years.

Albrecht said he has reached out to Oklahoma’s Department of Public Safety, inquiring about the possibility of getting assistance in launching a public awareness campaign to make Oklahoma drivers more aware that the state’s move over law includes all wreckers, not just those with blue and red flashing lights.

Recent changes mean the state law now applies to all flashing amber lights, even those belonging to cars stranded along the side of the road.

“These people just won’t move over, and you got to keep your head on a swivel all the time if you work in these conditions,” said Nick Morgan, owner of Morgan Towing and Recovery.

Morgan Towing and Recovery parked one of their large wreckers along the shoulder of W. Peak Boulevard on Friday, with their amber lights flashing. We set up our camera to see how many vehicles did in fact, move over.

While many drivers changed lanes when they saw the flashing lights, some were indecisive, or waited until they were right up on the wrecker before changing lanes.

State law requires drivers approaching a stationary authorized emergency vehicle, a department of transportation vehicle, a turnpike authority vehicle, a stationary vehicle that is displaying flashing lights, or a licensed wrecker that is displaying a flashing amber light or red and blue lights, to safely change lanes into a lane that is not adjacent to the stationary vehicle, or to slow down.

On Saturday, Dec. 3, John Mills’ wrecker, will be driven by another operator, leading a procession of tow trucks following the memorial service.

On Friday morning, the wrecker was being wrapped with special signage in his honor at Pro Shop in Tulsa.

His former boss, Mack Parks, who is helping to organize Saturday’s procession, said they’re calling it “John’s final run”.

Friday afternoon, tow truck company owners and operators from Muskogee, Enid and even Sioux City, Iowa gathered at Red Beard’s Towing in Muskogee to raise awareness about the need for drivers to move over.

We spoke with several of them who shared their pleas to the public:

“We’re dying from doing our job because people won’t give us space to do it,” said Steven Mayes, the owner of Mayes Towing.

Justin Bellman, of Stockton Towing in Iowa, drove all the way from Sioux City to Muskogee in order to attend Saturday’s memorial service and participate in the procession. He said he actually helped to train Mills several years ago.

“Any kind of flashing lights, I don’t care if it’s a car, with their hazards on, slow down, move over,” Bellman remarked.

Mack Parks, who helped organize the procession said he wants people to remember that tow truck operators are people with families they want to return home to:

“There’s a life, it’s a heartbeat, it’s not just a tow truck, there’s a heartbeat on the tow truck, there’s a guy that needs to get back to his family, there’s a wife who needs to get back to her family,” he said.

John Mills leaves behind a loving wife and a 15-month old son, John Jackson Mills.

According to OHP, there is a $249 fine for not obeying Oklahoma’s move over law which has been renamed “Bernardo’s law” after another tow truck operator, Bernardo Martinez, reportedly lost his life on the job in 2020.

For more information on how you can help the Mills family, just click on their Go Fund Me page.