More than police: Scott’s Law impacts all types of roadside workers

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ROCKFORD (WREX) – Ryan McGrail and his wife have a busy house with three girls all under the age of five.  Lately, his daughters have had a lot of time with their dad.

That play time, however, is confined to a hospital bed in the McGrail home. Ryan works as a tow truck driver and responded to a call for a flat tire on April 28th. The call was just minutes from his house in Gardner, Illinois.

“As I was trying to chain the vehicle down out of nowhere I got hit by a car, never even saw the car coming,” says Ryan. “Basically one second I’m putting a chain on a car next second I’m lying in a lane of traffic and watching cars flying by me and swerving around me.”

While wearing a reflective vest with emergency lights on his truck, Ryan was hit by a Scott’s Law violator.  He says he tried to get up and walk out of the road when he realized how badly hurt he was.

“It was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced in my life with my foot just dangling there.”

A list of injuries so long it’s hard to keep track.

“I kinda lost count it’s either nine or 19 back bones were broken or cracked. My right hip is broken. My right knee was broken. Then my left leg is the bulk of the injury.”

Ryan says now the bills are piling up and with no work, he has no income.  He says his family is getting by through a GoFundMe started by friends.

“It’s basically been cutting everything back, watching every penny we can.”

Ryan now spends his days sitting and thinking about what could have been.

“The industry standard nationwide is one tow truck driver dies every six days. I don’t know if I beat the odds on that or if it just wasn’t my time. It’s way closer than I ever want to be again.”

Ryan isn’t the only roadway worker that’s thinking this. Ron Esser, who’s worked as a highway maintainer for IDOT for 17 years, knows the risks firsthand.

“I’m standing here looking at you, I might not be tomorrow,” says Ron. “We live day to day with it.  It’s really not the ‘what if’s?’ It’s if we make the wrong move it’s when. When that happens, the rate of speed most cars are going by us there’s not a second opportunity. It’s a phone call.”

Ron says it wasn’t that long ago his crew had a close call.

“We did experience one last year with a semi hitting straight on and not touching the breaks or anything and hitting us at about 70 miles per hour. Everyone survived. They had to run, they had to scatter. It’s just a matter of seconds. I was in the second one and didn’t have a response time to get on the radio and tell them this guy is coming.”

Gary Tauscher is a firefighter with the Rockford Fire Department and says he’s seen his share of near misses too.

“I’ve seen several times in my career a car trying to sneak through. I’ve seen cars strike ambulances and fire trucks and police cars just trying to sneak around us or not paying attention. So it happens all the time. We try to position our trucks to protect us too, but we always try to look out for ourselves also along with the patients.”

“If you had a family member that was on the road would you go by as fast? Would you think about it twice?
I have kids,” says Ron.  “I like coming home to them. They like me coming home.”

“You need to slow down move over a lane,” says Ryan.  “You need to give everyone room to work. We deserve to go home. There’s a lot of people not going home.”

Mary Sugden

Mary Sugden

Investigative Reporter

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