Slow down and move over: it’s the plea from loved ones and colleagues after a tow trucker driver was killed last week while helping folks change a tire in North Haven.
For the last time, Chris Russell took a ride in his tow truck.
The 38-year-old came to the rescue of drivers with his tow truck, but Wednesday, his casket was strapped to the bed, followed by a moving tribute.
Dozens of tow truck drivers delivered him to his final resting site in Manchester, after he was struck and killed on I-91 in last month.
Get Connecticut local news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Connecticut newsletters.
“He was one of your cranky guys with the biggest heart you’ve ever seen,” said Harley Garcia, Russell’s colleague at RTT LLC.
Garcia said Russell was on his way back from a job and stopped to help a disabled motorist change a tire out of the kindness of his heart.
His former colleagues and friends aren’t surprised by that, nor are they surprised by the danger they experience on the side of the road.
“Oh yeah, every single day. It never stops. I want to get home to my family. My wife and kids need me,” said Russell’s friend and former colleague Brent Soucier, of Stafford.
He described Russell as, “Just grumpy all the time, but would definitely give you the last dollar to his name, or the shirt off his back, both.”
Every single tow truck driver NBC Connecticut spoke to had multiple stories of cars missing them by just inches on the highway or roadway.
“These vehicles are a weapon if they are used improperly. People need to operate these with the same care that they’d operate a handgun or anything else,” Garcia said.
They want to go home to their families every single night - something Russell won’t be able to do.
“It’s nerve wracking and it happens a lot more than it’s talked about, too,” said Soucier’s wife Derrah, who participated in the tow truck procession Wednesday.
Those we spoke to in attendance are pushing for people to abide by the "Move Over" law and they’re hoping police will crack down on enforcing it, too.
“There’s a shortage of state troopers, something we’re paying dearly for. We don’t have them backing us up on the highway like we used to,” Garcia said.
Connecticut State Police sent us this statement:
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Mr. Russell on this most difficult day. We understand the hazardous conditions working on the highway can present. Troopers are available to respond when called to these situations to assist with emergency lights. Although our agency staffing levels may fluctuate our staffing on patrol shifts remains consistent as required. The State Police would like to emphasize the Move Over law to the public. Failure of an operator of a motor vehicle to reduce speed AND/OR move over one lane, unless such movement would be unreasonable or unsafe, when approaching a stationary non-emergency vehicle(s) is a $181.00 infraction. "
As for the allegations that they don’t enforce the law enough, state police said:
“The State Police take every opportunity to enforce the Move Over law and will continue to do so. We hope that with continued enforcement and awareness, motorists will recognize how important following this law can be in making the highways safe for us all.”
“I’m out there all the time, too, and you know, people come within mere inches and they don’t think it’s like serious, but he didn’t get to go home to his family that night,” said Luis Crespo, friend and former colleague of Russell, who said Russell helped him through some hard times when they lived together.
He said he’s heartbroken about Russell’s death. Crespo said he and his son were going to go hiking and camping with Russell this week.
“We all have families to return home to. Unfortunately, Christopher didn’t return to his family, making sure that another family got home,” Garcia said.
“That could be anyone of us, that could be you stepping out to change your own tire," he added.
“We’re in town because tomorrow is the hearing for the death of my brother Corey,” said Cindy Iodice of Honolulu, Hawaii.
Iodice’s brother was killed on the Merritt Parkway in 2020. He, too, was a tow truck driver.
She attended Russell’s service Wednesday.
“There were 72 trucks today in the procession. A show of solidarity. A show of solidarity that we have to make a change,” she said, as she makes a documentary about the problem.
The driver who hit Russell was taken to the hospital unconscious. State police said the investigation continues.