After the partying, a lift to safety Towing firms aid those who've had too much cheer.

December 30, 1991|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Evening Sun Staff Richard Irwin contributed to this story.

While many people are planning to celebrate New Year's with dinner, dancing and possibly some drinking, Paul Musselman, a tow truck driver, plans on being behind the wheel of his truck most of tomorrow night.

But he's no morbid opportunist hoping to tow away wrecked vehicles.

Instead, Musselman hopes to do his part to prevent tragic car crashes by giving a free ride and car tow home to anyone who has had too much to drink, just as he has done the past two holiday seasons.

Musselman, 24, works for Linhard's Towing in Hunt Valley, one of nine Baltimore-area towing companies offering the service between Dec. 24 and Jan 2. Statewide, 24 companies are participating, according to the Towing and Recovery Association America.

"I was out from 11:30 [p.m.] to almost 4 a.m. last year taking people home," Musselman said. "A lot of the people, they were pretty intoxicated. They wouldn't have been able to drive themselves home. The people I've had have been really out of it."

One of the clients, a fellow who was drinking with friends at

Christopher's nightclub off Padonia Road in Timonium, was too drunk to drive but insisted on getting behind the wheel, Musselman recalled.

The man's friends took his car keys away from him until Musselman arrived.

"He was still trying to get the keys when I got there," the tow truck driver said. Musselman drove the tipsy reveler and his car home. "He called back two days later and thanked me for it."

Kevin Fritz, who coordinates the national program for TRAA, said that nearly 1,000 tow truck operators in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico offered the service last year.

During the Christmas and New Year's holidays, those firms towed roughly 12,000 vehicles home free of charge. Fritz said the towing firms believe they are helping to save lives.

"It's rewarding for us," said Joe Ryan, president of Good Samaritan Towing Inc. in Reisterstown. "It makes us feel really good to know we got people home safely."

State Police said 697 people have died in traffic accidents on Maryland roads so far this year, compared to 719 at this time last year.

Almost 300 of this year's deaths occurred in crashes that involved alcohol, said Chuck Jackson, the State Police spokesman.

"There has been a decline, in the last five years, in the number of traffic deaths involving alcohol," said Jackson, but drunken driving continues to be a problem.

"Thirty thousand people were arrested for driving while impaired this year," he said. "Of those, roughly 16,000 people had their licenses confiscated."

In Maryland, a driver with a blood alcohol level of 0.10 percent is considered to have been driving while intoxicated, and a driver with a level of 0.07 percent is considered to have been driving under the influence, a lesser offense.

Police can confiscate the driver's license of anyone who registers alevel of 0.10 or higher -- or anyone who refuses to submit to a breath or blood test for alcohol.

The tow truck operators said they won't question people about how much they've drunk, or even ask their names.

But they won't tow the person home for free if the car already is wrecked or disabled. And they won't tow someone to another party -- only to his home.

Musselman recalled one man last year who asked to be towed home, but when they got to the address the man gave, the house was alive with people, an obvious New Year's Eve party.

"The guy swore that this was his home," Musselman said. "So I just asked for his license and it had a different address. So I drove him there, instead."

Ryan said some people called ahead of time last year to make reservations, before they had even left their homes.

"We don't take reservations," Ryan said. "If you're planning to get drunk ahead of time, take a cab, or make other arrangements."

However, once someone feels he is too drunk to drive, the tow truck operators said they will respond, regardless of whether the person intentionally drank too much or not.

"We don't ask them their name," said Joe Linhard, owner of Linhard's Towing. "It's totally anonymous."

"It's not a big deal for us to do it," said Linhard, "and we may save someone's life."

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