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Remembering Kenneth Ray Davis, Pt. 2

Cover Shot 2 40763By Randall C. Resch

Original Chico Record Newspaper Oct. 6, 1934. Photos and original 1934 newspaper provided by Cindy Davis Wolff.

On Oct. 6, 1934, 29-year-old wrecker operator, Kenneth Ray Davis and California Highway Patrol Officer William Riley McDaniel were ambushed and killed near the rural cemetery in Chico, California.

In February I uncovered perhaps the oldest, confirmed, recorded line-of-duty death of a tow operator known to the industry. While researching tow operator fatalities, two words of an Internet story, "garage mechanic," caught my attention describing a tow operator's death occurring in 1934. Towers were called "garage mechanics" at that time because a garage mechanic's function was to gas and service automobiles; the duties of wrecker operator were secondary.

Setting the Stage

In 1934, Davis worked at the Oaks Hotel in Chico's downtown district. It included an automobile service garage, gas station, even hair salons and spas. The Oaks was noted to be a, "whites only," establishment said to harbor negative attitudes against the Chinese.

On Oct. 6, Davis accepted a tow request to an area known as the "Chinese Section" at Chico's graveyard. Sometime after midnight, shots rang out and responding officers discovered Davis lying in the dirt, dead near his wrecker, his flashlight still burning. A police account noted Davis and McDaniel were ambushed from the nearby groves based on markings of a struggle observed at the scene.

The shooter, ex-con Nick Turchinetz, fired upon McDaniel who returned fire but died next to his police motorcycle, its headlights still burning. Turchnietz fled the scene, but, within a short time, a sheriff's posse tracked Turchinetz down and killed him with a single rifle shot.

Hunting for Answers

After weeks of investigative work, I narrowed a list to six individuals to possibly be Davis' descendants and mailed detailed letters. Only one woman responded, identifying herself as Mrs. Cindy Davis Wolff, a resident of Chico, claiming she and her brother, John Brattan, were the children of Davis' daughter Marlene; the three-year-old mentioned in original news accounts.

On June 10, 2018, I met with Wolff and she eagerly produced a wooden box containing old photographs and an original newspaper dated Oct. 6, 1934. We talked for hours before heading to Chico's Cemetery. The fatal shooting occurred not more than approximately 1,000' from where Davis was buried.

McDaniel was buried amongst military personnel while Turchinetz was buried unmarked in a pauper's area bordering the cemetery.

Times Were Hard

Davis was killed during the middle of the Great Depression. Wolff told me that her mother commented, "We were desperately poor for a number of years." Putting that into context, on Feb. 21, 1935, a letter from California's Industrial Accident Commission stated, "Award is made in favor of Eula Mable Davis and Marlene Antoinette Davis, applicants, against Employer's Liability Assurance Corporation, defendants, of a death benefit and burial expenses in the total sum of $3,689.25, payable as follows: To Eula M. Davis, the sum of $14.75 weekly, beginning October 7, 1934, until the whole of this award shall have been paid, less $100 payable to F. J. Rose as attorney's fees."

Do the math: that's a whopping total of $59 a month.

In the months to come, I'll re-approach Chico's History Museum requesting to add Davis' story to the museum's law enforcement displays. Best of all, the Towing and Recovery Museum's Wall of the Fallen Committee unanimously voted to add Davis to the memorial wall in September in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The WOF Memorial takes place Saturday, Sept. 15, where Christine and I will join Cindy Davis Wolff and her family to be present for the unveiling of her grandfather's name being added on the Wall.

This project was near and dear to my heart. The tragic and violent end of Davis' and McDaniel's lives will not be forgotten. I'm honored to have been able to bring this to your attention on behalf of Kenneth Ray Davis and his family. The full account of this story now appears in September's issue of American Towman.

Randall Resch is American Towman's and Tow Industry Week's Operations Editor, a former California police officer, tow business owner and retired civilian off-road instructor for Navy Special Warfare. Randall is an approved instructor for towers serving the California Highway Patrol's rotation contract. His course is approved by the California law enforcement community. He has written over 500 industry-related articles for print and on-line, is a member of the International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame, and, a recipient of the 2017 Dave Jones Leadership Award.
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Storm Response Revisited

harvey dd8a0By Brian J. Riker

Hurricane Florence produced severe flooding from Virginia to the Carolinas and caused several deaths. It will require months of hard work by teams of dedicated professionals to clean up. Towmen have already stepped up to the task and are coming from across the country to lend a hand.

I would be derelict in my duties if I did not take this opportunity to remind you of some hazards and legalities of storm response. It is noble to want to help, but it must be done safely and legally.

Safety first, or as I prefer to say, safety always! With the immediate threat of the storm gone, you may be lulled into a false sense of security. Practice situational awareness at all times. Here are just a few of the many hazards that you may face during emergency storm response:


Missing sections of roadways, collapsed bridges or undermined pavement all pose a high risk of injury. Do not drive into floodwaters until they have receded enough to allow confirmation of safe road conditions.

Bacterial contamination in the water from damage to sewage treatment plants, failing septic systems and other infrastructure damage. Take precautions to avoid ingestion of floodwaters or direct exposure to your skin—especially if you have open cuts or sores.

Electrocution hazards from downed wires or flooded underground utility structures. Never assume that power is out until proven otherwise by a competent person from the electric utility service. As utility companies work to restore power they may miss some damage to their distribution system and could re-energize damaged lines accidentally.

Aggressive animals, snakes and marine life may pose a hazard if you are not alert for their presence. It is common for animals to be aggressive after a major storm; they are scared and confused, often displaced from their natural habitat and likely to strike.

Physical safety and security. Law enforcement resources are stretched beyond capacity during the initial phase of any natural disaster, which leads to an increase in theft and vandalism. Be alert for this type of activity, especially when working alone in remote neighborhoods.

Bring your own food and be prepared for limited supplies of fuel. I advise also bringing extra fuel filters and service equipment so that you can quickly repair your truck should you encounter water-contaminated fuel. Bottled water and other non-perishable food is easy to carry in the truck with you. I suggest being prepared for several days should you become stranded somewhere remote.

Waterlogged vehicles pose health hazards even after they have been drained of floodwaters. Mold and bacterial contamination grow quickly, becoming inhalation hazards. Take precaution to limit your exposure to the interior of these vehicles.

Flooded vehicles may have compromised safety systems. Even if they appear to be normal I advise against attempting to start them, as the supplemental restraint system, braking system and even the accelerator control system (gas pedal) may be compromised and could cause injury or death due to unexpected or unusual response.

Although the battery systems of electric vehicles are designed to remain safe from electrocution hazards when submerged, nothing is fail-safe. Always assume it is energized until proven otherwise; however do not attempt to disconnect the battery while still submerged. The presence of bubbling or fizzing from the battery compartment of electric vehicles is normal: it indicates the battery is not completely discharged. This process produces flammable gas and ventilation is recommended. Store these vehicles outdoors and away from all other vehicles, there is a possibility for them to catch fire are drying out due to short circuits, especially when exposed to salt water contamination.

There may also be communication issues. Cellphone service is likely to be disrupted when there are widespread power failures and fuel shortages. Two-way radio systems may be subject to interference from other local users since the licensing for those systems assume that users will remain local to their base location.

There are also legal issues to contend with. Depending on who requested your response, you may have some relief from state or federal motor carrier regulations. On Sept. 10, the FMCSA issued an emergency declaration of relief from some provisions of their regulations for motor carriers directly assisting in the emergency response.

This declaration does not supersede state-level licensing requirements nor does it apply to simple vehicle salvage operations such as transportation to salvage pool storage lots. The intent is to allow for unrestricted flow of emergency relief supplies such as food, water, fuel, generators, medical supplies and such.

If you are working at the request of a state, federal or local agency to clear the highway or assist with rescue efforts then you likely can use this emergency exemption. If you are only removing damaged vehicles from private property after an insurance company has declared them a loss, then you are still fully subject to all regulations including hours of service and state operating authorities, permits and licensing.

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