Wednesday, May 27, 2009

MI Tow Hero Acclaimed For Roadside Assistance

Good story by writer Jeanne Kniaz on about MI tow truck driver Mike Thorpe:
Click here to read my post from last April about this.

Tow truck operator Mike Thorpe takes pride in having the expertise and equipment to serve those in need in most situations.
That being said, the service rendered by Thorpe on an April afternoon last year clearly transcended the scope of your typical roadside assistance, Memphis Police Chief Elena Danishevskaya believes.

"His deeds were a great act of heroism," she declared when advised that Thorpe had received an American Towman Medal for "The Simple Act of Bravery" -- an award for which she had nominated him.

Thorpe is the owner of Mike's Towing and Hauling in Yale. April 16, 2008 began like any other day but, in the blink of an eye, events unfolded that triggered disaster when a man opened fire on Capac Police Chief Raymond Hawks and St. Clair County Deputy Tim O'Boyle.

Prior to the commotion Thorpe, 41, had responded to a routine wrecker call but soon found himself in the midst of mayhem, dodging bullets wielded by a gunman.

Events erupted after Chief Hawks had chased a recklessly driven vehicle to a Capac residence at which point the driver, Donald Burke, 50, fled on foot and holed-up inside of his house.

Hawks then called for a wrecker to remove the suspect's car from the scene.

"We didn't think much of it. We just thought it was another routine job ...towing another vehicle abandoned for whatever reason. But, when we went to back up to that vehicle in that driveway, it turned out to be a whole thing that was anything but ordinary," Thorpe recollected.

As Thorpe sat inside his vehicle and conversed with the chief, who stood alongside the wrecker, the suspect suddenly emerged from the house and pointed a 22-caliber weapon in their direction. Shots rang out and Hawks, 65, was hit in the shoulder and the chest.

"He fell to the ground instantly and bullets were ringing through the truck. It took a couple shots to realize that bullets were actually being fired ... to realize that this was gunfire. He was shooting into the cab near the left side of my head and I heard ringing sounds and ricocheting noises from bullets. As I leaned to my right to get away from the noises the rearview mirror on the truck was actually showing (Burke) standing on his porch with a long-barreled rifle just shooting wildly down the road - what we thought was wildly - but he was actually shooting at a sheriff's deputy who was down the block. He was actually shooting over the bed of our truck at that point, behind the cab of my truck and through the windshield of a sheriff car that was another couple hundred feet down the road," Thorpe recalled.

Somehow through it all Thorpe kept his cool, called 911, jumped out of his truck and assisted the chief as he writhed on the ground, his white shirt turning red.

The gunman fled back into the house as Thorpe and some neighboring residents cut away the blood-soaked shirt from Hawks' arm and applied clean towels to his wounds.

At Hawks' request, Thorpe phoned Hawks' wife and stepped discretely to one side as the police chief notified his wife that he had been hit by gunfire.

Hawks also called St. Clair County Central Dispatch and pleaded, "I'm dying; tell them to hurry."

Rescue units responded but due to the fact that, at that point, the crime scene remained unsecured, emergency medical service personnel did not pull up to the scene.

"Once it clicked in that they were not going to allow more people in because they didn't know where the shooter was, we started looking around and thought we would put the chief inside the cop car and then bolt him out of there," Thorpe said.

But trying to wedge the injured Hawks, with his brawny six-and-a-half-foot frame, into the backseat of the cruiser proved to be a futile maneuver.

"It was like trying to get a square peg into a round hole," Thorpe chuckled.

Luckily, out of the corner of his eye, Thorpe spied his flatbed wrecker.

"If I can't move things with my own hands, that is the first thing I turn to," he said.

"I pulled it back out onto the street and then ran the bed down so that we didn't have to lift him. It was a flatbed and we were able to take it right to the ground and then just slide him on to it."

Just as Thorpe was pulling away Hawks' wife sped onto the scene, came to a screeching halt, jumped out of her car and ran to the wrecker where one of the neighbors hoisted her onto the flatbed.

"I'm trying to take off, but I'm watching in the mirror; and he literally grabbed her with one hand, and you kind of see her airborne and then land on the back of the wrecker. He pulled her right out of her shoes. One of her shoes stayed lying in the street and off we went," Thorpe related.

Around the corner he came into contact with Danishevskaya, the first officer to arrive on the scene.

"As I was running toward the scene I met up with the tow truck with Ray Hawks on the flatbed. I motioned for the ambulance to come and meet us and to get Ray into the ambulance. I feel that (Thorpe) and a couple of the neighbors who were on the scene were so important in helping to save Ray Hawks' life when every minute literally counted. I really feel their actions made a big difference," Danishevskaya said.

Months later when police chiefs around the country received application forms to nominate candidates for the 2008 American Towman medal for bravery, Danishevskaya recalled Thorpe's actions in the Capac incident.

"As soon as I opened it and read it, his name came to mind immediately. I took a couple moments to fill out the application and mention his great deeds, and he actually got the award," the chief said.

In her letter to American Towman the chief stated Thorpe's quick actions were instrumental in saving the life of the wounded chief and that she believed he should be recognized. He was, along with two other recipients from Maryland, at an awards ceremony.

Deputy Tim O'Boyle, then a 25-year veteran of the sheriff's department, suffered a grazing wound to his head and was treated and released; Chief Raymond Hawks, at one time in a coma and critical, is still recovering from his wounds today; and the gunman, Donald Burke, was captured, arrested, tried and found guilty of three counts of attempted murder.

Today, though his truck remains riddled with bullets Thorpe -- whose picture appeared on the Feb. 2009 cover of American Towman magazine -- remains upbeat, appreciates life and has these wise words to impart: "Even if you are talking to the police, make sure you still watch your back."

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