DECATUR – A Decatur service station owner is turning detective to help police track down the hit-and-run suspect who left a tow truck driver lying injured by the side of the road.
Jay Billingsley, owner of Billingsley BP Service Center and Towing, has painstakingly pieced together pieces of the front plastic bumper left behind at the accident scene and says he can now identify the color and type of vehicle involved: a 2006-2009 Chevrolet Impala in a gray shade the factory calls “dark gray tarnished metallic.”
Billingsley said this is the vehicle that side-swiped his friend and colleague, tow truck driver Chris Moore, on the shoulder of eastbound Interstate 72 near Argenta on the evening of Feb. 9.
Moore, who was securing a disabled truck for towing, was left with both legs broken below the knee and two broken ankles, among other injuries. A married man with two children, he is continuing to recover in a hospital; the driver of the disabled vehicle was also injured, but less seriously.
The Illinois State Police, who acknowledged Billingsley's information, haven't commented on the significance of the evidence, and officers had collected their own vehicle fragments from the accident scene.
“Since the accident happened, we have been following leads throughout the area regarding different vehicles, but none of those leads have panned out,” said Master Sgt. Ryan Starrick. “If anyone has information, they can call (217) 867-2050.”
Billingsley, who worked with colleague Tom Rutherford to reassemble the collected bumper fragments, says it was at first thought the suspect vehicle was a Ford Taurus, but he's confident of the Impala identity now. He also knows it's a long shot trying to locate the hit and run driver, who could be multiple time zones away, but he says he owes it to Moore to try.
“Chris, in addition to being my co-worker, is a very good friend, and I know that if I were to ever to experience a situation like this, he would do the same for me,” said Billingsley, 42.
He said the suspect driver, whose vehicle would also be missing its passenger side mirror, would have realized instantly what they had done. “That person needs to know it's not too late to do the right thing: Be an upstanding citizen and admit the mistake and turn themselves in,” Billingsley said.
He described Moore as a “fighter determined to get better,” and says he was given the best of care and attention by the first responders who came to the accident scene. “The Argenta Fire Department, the Macon County Sheriff's Office, the State Police and Decatur Ambulance all responded immediately, and we're very, very thankful for their efforts at the scene,” Billingsley added.
He said this was the first time an incident like this had happened to one of his drivers, but being a tow truck operator is regarded as a risky way to make a living.
“It's a dangerous profession and should be treated with as much respect as possible,” he said. “Drivers should move over when they see any kind of emergency vehicle by the side of the road; that's also the law.”