Muskegon — Jan. 7, 2015: Jeremy Dykstra remembers that chaotic day like it was yesterday.

He remembers the elderly woman on her way to visit her sister in hospice whose car he had just pulled from a snowy ditch. He remembers seeing car after car lose control as they passed him by and thinking to himself “it was only a matter of time.”

He remembers the semitrailer that jackknifed right behind his wrecker and the second semi, too, the one that shoved the first semi into his Eagle Towing truck. He remembers the sounds after that — the crunch of metal on metal as 40 cars plowed into each other on that snowy, slippery stretch of U.S. 31.

“It was a sound you’d never forget,” Dykstra said.

It must have been then that the adrenaline kicked in. He quickly put the woman he was helping into the backseat of what by then was her smashed-up car and moved it off the road. He raced to a car that had become wedged beneath the second semitrailer, its roof caved in, and managed to free it with his damaged wrecker.

A registered nurse appeared and together they began helping the three occupants who it turned out escaped serious injury.

He moved on, recovering about eight cars that had been part of the smash-up. In all, about six tow companies responded to the chain-reaction.

“It was like a war zone,” Dykstra said. “Every time you looked up you got a ghostly feeling.”

Dykstra’s actions that day resulted in him receiving the American Towman Medal, the towing industry’s “most prestigious honor.” That’s according to Dennie Ortiz, publisher of American Towman magazine, which bestows the medal to “towers who put their own lives at risk to save the life of another human being.”

The medal includes this inscription: “For the Simple Act of Bravery.”

Tow truck drivers often don’t get much recognition for the crucial work they do. Whether it’s changing a tire on the side of a freeway, or moving a crunched vehicle out of a busy intersection, wrecker operators regularly find themselves in dangerous situations.

When he was in Baltimore recently to accept his American Towman Medal, Dykstra was moved by the story of another of the three recipients. His name was Fred Scroggs Jr., and he was honored posthumously.

Scroggs, 25, died in October when a vehicle hit him as he changed a tire on the side of I-275 in the Detroit area. The driver who hit him died as well, and Scroggs is credited with saving the life of the woman whose tire he was changing. He ensured she was inside her vehicle as he worked noting the potential for danger, according to reports.

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