He was driving there from a Christmas party early one December morning, less than two weeks before the holiday, then hit a guardrail on a service road around 4:30 a.m. in northeast Harris County. He called his mother.
Kimberly Turner said she didn’t know if he’d been sleepy or what had happened, but he couldn’t move his vehicle. She told him to make sure he had his hazards on, see if the vehicle was moveable or to try calling for a tow. Her son, who loved his car and had goals to customize it, had been upset, she said.
He would become among the latest victims of such a tragedy, killed after their car becomes disabled, be it from a crash, a breakdown or other incident.
Texas ranks first in the nation among these deaths, according to a report from AAA. From 2015 to 2019, 263 people died on Texas roads after their vehicle became disabled. Data cited in that report found California had the second-highest total with 248. The report, released in December 2021, gathered the most recent data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Fatality Analysis Reporting System.
Each situation that leads to a disabled car is different and could require a different response, but drivers should be prepared, experts said.
For drivers who find themselves in a similar situation as her son, Kimberly Turner said they should think about their circumstances and surroundings, and whether it was safer to stay in the vehicle or get out and “get completely out of the way of other vehicles.” They could call someone for help, or have emergency assistance numbers saved to their phone, she said.
Authorities or other people involved with programs that help people in such incidents shared some similar advice. David Fink is a transportation manager with the Tow and Go program, which offers free tows to people in their service area with stalled vehicles or those with mechanical failure, including Houston. He said people should stay in their vehicles and call them, and depending on where they are, a tow truck would be dispatched to remove their vehicle.
“But unless they’re in a location where they can safely exit the vehicle … they should stay inside the vehicle and actually have their seatbelt on,” he said.
For those involved in a minor crash, Fink advised drivers to go to the nearest exit and find a safe area, such as a parking lot, or to get the vehicle over to the shoulder of the road.
“Do not get out and have a meeting in the middle of a freeway with cars flying by at, you know, sometimes 50 to 70 miles an hour,” Fink said.
There’s also a misconception that insurance companies want drivers to stay put after a crash until law enforcement arrives, said Lt. Cedrick Collier of the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, who works over the agency’s Motorist Assistance Program. The program helps stranded motorists, clear freeways of minor incidents and assist stalled vehicles.
“That’s not the case,” he said. “They can’t supersede law — law states that you have the right to steer and clear.”
A TranStar document advised that — in situations where no one is injured and the vehicle can be driven — state law mandates that drivers move their vehicles. Then, once they’re off the freeway in a safe spot, drivers should photograph the damage and exchange information, per the document.
Joshua Shideler, a Houston TranStar spokesperson, also noted the importance of having proper vehicle maintenance, including making sure tires and vehicle fluids are in check, to avoid a vehicle breakdown that could leave a driver stuck on a busy freeway.
Regardless of how prepared a driver tries to be, though, crashes can still occur — and a fast-moving situation can unfold, requiring an immediate response.
In Turner’s case, his mother said she doesn’t know how quickly it all happened.
The retirement planning counselor remembered her oldest son as calm, kind, conscientious and hardworking — a person who loved his family and had a lot of friends.
A recent goal of his was to become a bartender at Pluckers Wing Bar, and she recalled how he would study for it on his days off to meet the requirements. When her son believed in a place or company, she said, he would put in that effort. And he accomplished that goal.
“I always told him, be happy with what you’re doing,” she said. “You know, and I believe that that’s what he was.”