Five days after the crash that killed 37-year-old Nicholas Ryan Visser and 28-year-old William Casie Allen, the snow that covered the roads of Yellowstone County had nearly vanished.
A line of fire engines, police cruisers, and ambulances joined wreckers that the two used to earn their living in rolling along uninterrupted down 27th Street.
Before starting their drive from Highway 3 Friday, a solid line of red, blue and orange emergency lights lit up the Rims.
“I hope that Nick and Casie’s memory is always going to be in our heart, and always be a reminder that we just need to slow down. There is no place worth getting to too quickly to end up going nowhere,” said Meaghan Cook of the Yellowstone Valley Tow Truck Association, who along with Kristopher Moore of Thin Line Towing and Recovery in Billings, helped to organize the procession.
The line of more than 200 vehicles came courtesy of organizers, and an outpouring of support for the two men and all first responders since Sunday's crash.
The stretch of drivers came from as far as Wyoming and Washington to take part in the procession, with the families of both men riding at its center. Moore said the response, both online and on hand Friday night, shows just how wide the tow truck family of Visser and Allen extends.
A pickup truck struck Visser and Allen on I-90 while the two worked to tow a truck that had crashed along the icy freeway early Sunday morning. A crash narrative from the Montana Highway Patrol said that the 18-year-old driver of the pickup attempted to pass a semi that had slowed as it approached Visser and Allen.
The pickup hit the two in the passing lane where they worked, the Gazette previously reported.
GoFundMe pages launched to support the families of both men in funeral costs and other expenses earlier in the week have garnered over $100,000 in donations within just a few days.
Friends, businesses and anonymous donors have raised over $34,000 for the family of Allen, described as a “sweet and soft-spoken” man with a love of the outdoors on his GoFundMe page.
“It warms our hearts to see so many embracing the Allens during this time of imaginable loss and pain,” wrote one donor on his GoFundMe page.
Donations for Visser’s family, which includes a wife and five children, reached over $69,000 as of Saturday afternoon.
Jennie Grow has driven a wrecker in Billings along with her husband, Robert Grow, since 2002. She can’t remember ever seeing Visser angry during the entire time that she knew him. She said he was gentlest man, whether they were riding motorcycles together, or if he was on shift.
“You never saw the anger and the frustration that goes with this job, which there’s a lot of that,” said Jennie Grow, who joined hundreds of others in the procession.
Even with his own personal close calls since working in the tow truck industry for the past 18 years, Robert Grow said he’ll keep working until he can’t anymore. Not only is it better than sitting on the couch, he said, helping people is worth the risk.
The Emergency Responder Safety Institute tracks the number of first responders struck and killed on roads and highways throughout the United States. In 2019, tow truck drivers and mobile mechanics made up 27% of emergency responders killed by an oncoming vehicle for the year.
As part of a tribute to first responders, the Billings Gazette reached out to 10 people to discuss their lives as those who answer the calls when people are at their most vulnerable. Kristopher Moore, one of the 10, summed up his reasoning for operating a wrecker.
PHOTOS: First responders line the Rims in Friday night vigil
"You do not do this job for money, fame, or recognition. You do it for the love of the job, and the want to help people. To make somebody’s day suck less," he said.