CLEVELAND– They’re supposed to help drivers when they’re in trouble, but now serious questions are being raised about at least one Ohio Department of Transportation safety patrol operator.
The tow truck operator was captured on Cleveland police body cam video lifting and flipping a car into rush hour traffic on the interstate with the driver still inside.
Officers were originally responding to a minor multi-vehicle fender bender. Cameron Jenkins, 24, was side swiped and sitting inside of the vehicle along the berm on Interstate 90 west near the Interstate 71 split.
The officer took his information and told him to sit tight. Seconds later, his Kia was being lifted high into the air and then slammed back down.
“I just remember my car going up,” Jenkins said. “And the next thing I know, I’m flipped over in my car.”
As police rushed over to help, the tow truck operator is heard on the video asking, “Is he in there?” The officers responded, “Yes, he’s in there.”
FOX 8 learned the tow truck is part of ODOT’s “Good Samaritan Safety Patrol Program,” which is sponsored exclusively by State Farm Insurance and contracted with a company based in New York.
“It’s a company called AutoBase Inc.,” said attorney Tom Merriman, who is representing Jenkins. “They have a contract with ODOT and their purpose for being is to make the roads safer.”
“They acknowledge that it happened, but can’t comment at this time due to pending litigation,” said Joe Labella Sr., AutoBase Inc. general manager.
According to the police report, the tow truck driver basically said the “boom” was malfunctioning.
In a statement, ODOT Northeast Ohio Public Information Officer Amanda McFarland said:
“AutoBase Inc. made ODOT aware of the incident as soon as it happened, per standard operating procedure. ODOT discussed the incident with AutoBase and they have taken corrective actions by updating similar control systems on all tow trucks on the ODOT contract.”
But Merriman said that doesn’t explain everything. According to AutoBase Inc’s own website, the vehicles are all outfitted with multiple cameras.
“They have cameras both in the front and back of their vehicles, and their command center can actually manage a crash scene remotely,” said Merriman, wondering why someone didn’t notice Jenkins inside of the car.
Jenkins was badly bruised and suffered a serious concussion that left him with lingering symptoms including dizziness, nausea, insomnia and trouble concentrating.
Both Merriman and Jenkins also question the tow truck driver’s apparent demeanor following the incident.
“He has no reaction. No care in the world, just another day on the job,” Jenkins said.
FOX 8 also reached out to State Farm. Although the insurance company has nothing to do with the actual Safety Patrol’s operations or vehicles, a regional spokesperson said they’re looking into the incident.
“ODOT needs to investigate,” Merriman said. “The bottom line is those drivers need to be retrained and whoever’s supervising them needs to be questioned about what methods are you using to make sure their tow truck drivers, they’re out there and not putting the public at risk.”