Every crash is different

Wrecker driver Tommy Leatherman said there are plenty of factors that need to be taken into consideration when trying to right overturned vehicles. In this instance, he was called to remove both an overturned pickup and its trailer after the pickup had gone off the road.

Duane Leatherman Body Shop’s Tommy Leatherman, left, and Indiana State Trooper Marc Leatherman, watch a truck Tommy is loading onto a flatbed trailer earlier this winter.

Tommy Leatherman, left, and Mat Robinson, both of Duane Leatherman Body Shop, confer before attempting to get an overturned trailer back on its wheels following a crash earlier this winter.

By Matt Getts


WOLF LAKE — It’s a full-sized, 8,000-pound pickup on its side with a trailer, also on its side.

The driver is out of the vehicle, obviously OK.

But Tommy Leatherman’s mind is working a mile a minute. Leatherman has been a wrecker driver for Duane Leatherman Body Shop for exactly half of his 36 years. Years before that, he went with his father on calls.

He’s been around long enough to know that no two incidents are the same.

On this cold day, the driver of the on-its-side pickup lost control on icy roads on S.R. 109, south of Wolf Lake. The crashed truck is off the roadway, but both lanes of traffic will need to be stopped so he can correctly position the two wreckers that were called to the scene.

Oncoming traffic is just one of his concerns. Are there power lines involved? Other obstacles on the ground that could affect how the vehicle is first turned, then flipped over onto its wheels? How it will be drug to the flatbed carrier? Is the ground soft? Will the vehicle in question turn as he wants it?

“You can do 20 different accident scenes and every one is different,” Leatherman said. “You learn from your mistakes. We take photos at accident scenes and go over them.”

Tommy Leatherman has been to more than his share of slide-offs and crashes. If his mom was away from home and a call would come in, his father, Duane, would strap him into a car seat and take him to work in his wrecker.

“It’s a way of life for us,” Leatherman said. “It’s what we’re here for.”

It’s not a life that’s for everyone.

“It’s hard for a family life,” Leatherman said. “You’re sitting down to Christmas dinner and you get called out. It’s 2 a.m. and everybody’s sleeping and you get called out.”

It’s something he has grown up around, so he is used to the demands of the job. For most kids, a heavy snow day means no school and sleeping in. For Tommy, it meant going to work with his father.

“My dad did it,” he said. “My grandpa did it. I grew up doing it,” he said. “We never got snow days or anything like that.”

It’s helped that his wife, Alisha, understands the life better than most.

“Her dad’s a flight nurse in Michigan,” Leatherman said. “He’s a paramedic.”

It can be a traumatic job. Some of the scenes he is called to involve fatalities.

“The kids really bug you,” he said. “The kids, the teenagers — that sticks with you.”

He balances things out by concentrating on the positive aspects, that in most cases, he’s there to help someone out of a tough spot.

“You’re there for people when they’re at their worst,” he said. “No one wants to see a wrecker. You want to help people. I love doing it.”

He said he could do without bad weather calls, even though he knows that’s part of the job.

“I don’t want anybody to get hurt,” he said. “I don’t like winter.”

When the roads are at their worst, it can be the busiest time for wrecker service. He said he doesn’t get scared when driving on bad roads, but he is wary of those he shares the road with.

“You get white-knuckled,” he said. “You know your limits. It’s everybody else that’s not paying attention (that’s a concern).”

He is a cautious driver, particularly when roads might be icy.

“You treat everything like it’s slick,” Leatherman said. “If you don’t get there, you can’t help anybody.”

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