BILLINGS — On Monday, the owners of Hanser's Automotive in Billings remembered the two tow-truck operators who died in a Sunday accident as men who were passionate about their work and service to the community.
"Those guys go out day and night and serve people. They do a great job all the time, so those are the kind of people we look for and those are the kind of people that they were,” said Scott Hanser, manager and son of Hanser's owner, Ralph Hanser.
William Casie Allen of Reed Point, 28 years old, and Nicholas Ryan Visser of Billings, 37, were killed after they were hit by a passing vehicle while trying to recover a vehicle in the snow on Interstate 90 early Sunday morning east of Columbus. It happened when a semi-truck slowed for the tow trucks that were parked in the eastbound passing lane. A driver behind the semi didn't see the semi's brake lights illuminate and moved into the passing lane to avoid a collision with the semi. The vehicle then hit the tow truck operators in the passing lane.
Scott and his brother, Spence Hanser, have both been working with the company for more than 30 years. While the company grieves the loss of its colleagues, they want to send a call to the community, asking for safety and attentiveness while on the road. “It’s for the police officers, the fire trucks. There are patrolmen that have driven their cars into the ditch to avoid being hit. It’s all of the responders out there. Be aware what’s going on when you go out in these things. People don’t go drive in hurricanes, but they’ll drive in a blizzard," Spence said.
“Through this thing, we’re just sitting here reminding ourselves how many times that we’ve almost got hit. There’s thousands and thousands of times. So, we’re just asking people when they see warning signs, when they see bad weather conditions to slow down. There’s people out there trying to get people out of the ditch," Scott said.
Visser, a husband and father, leaves behind a wife and five kids. He was a man who loved motorcycles, beards, and his wife's good cooking. He may have looked tough, but coworkers said his soul was gentle and kind.
Allen was described as a sweet, soft-spoken man who loved the great outdoors, who deserved more time fishing, bow hunting and shooting.
The Hanser's team set up two GoFundMe accounts to help the families of Visser and Allen with funeral costs and other daily expenses. Click here to visit the account for Allen, and click here for the Visser account page.
By Monday evening Visser's fundraiser had $14,400 of its $25,000 goal, while Allen's fundraiser had $6,350 of its $10,000 goal.
The Yellowstone Valley Tow Truck Association is planning to light up the night from atop the Billings Rimrocks on Friday at 7 p.m. to honor the two men. The Rims area will be reserved for first responders. Viewers are asked to watch from Downtown, West End, or South Side of town.
The Montana Highway Patrol continues to investigate the incident, who says that speed is considered a factor in the crash; alcohol and drugs are not suspected to be involved. Road conditions were icy at the time of the crash. The Greenville man was wearing a seat belt and not injured. The semi truck driver, a 54-year-old man from Minnesota, was also uninjured and wearing a seat belt.
At this point, there is no word on whether any citations will be issued or charges filed. We will update you if we get more information.