State police give a trying tale a happy ending
By Dan Casey
Duke Barr III is a Blue Ridge Parkway ranger who works in Asheville, N.C., and lives near Johnson City, Tenn. He lived and worked here in Roanoke from 1981 to 1987.
"Best time of my life. A great place to be," he told me.
Those fond memories for the valley came flooding back earlier this month after some state troopers here helped out one of Barr's family members who was in dire straits.
Bar, 49, e-mailed this paper last week, mostly to praise Virginia State Police for rescuing his dad, and to deliver a small measure of scorn for a certain towing operator.
Here's the story:
On Saturday, June 6, Barr's father, Duke Barr Jr., left his home in Elizabethton, Tenn., to take some trash to the local dumping station about a half-mile away.
Barr Jr. is 81 and suffers from second-stage Alzheimer's, his son said, but until recently he and his mom believed dad was OK driving very short distances.
Barr Jr. didn't return. So Barr called police in Tennessee, who broadcast a "be-on-the-lookout" for his dad's 1998 blue and beige Ford Expedition to officers all over that state and neighboring ones.
Meanwhile, the longer Barr Jr. was gone, the more worried Barr and his mom got.
"We sat up all Saturday night on the porch," Barr said. "Every car we saw pass, we thought it was him. My mom was so strong."
Early on June 7, Ray Chandler was near the end of a night shift at the Hollins weigh station along Interstate 81 near exit 150. Chandler is a commercial vehicle enforcement officer for the Virginia State Police.
Around 6 a.m. he saw an SUV matching the Tennessee alert creeping northbound at about 10 mph. Chandler hopped in his car and followed.
He stopped it at paved median crossover at mile marker 153. Barr was safe, though out of sorts.
"He was rather disoriented. He thought he was still in Tennessee," said Trooper Howard Lucas, who was on patrol that morning when Chandler summoned him. Barr Jr. told the trooper he had just gone to the store and thought he was not far from the house.
Chandler called Duke Barr III to notify him where his dad had been found. Barr, his brother in-law, and his dad's neighbor hopped in a car for the more than a 3-hour drive here. Meanwhile, Lucas took Barr Jr. to the weigh station, where Trooper Joe Jessee was working that morning.
Barr Jr. "stayed with me at the scales for four hours, something like that," Jessee said. "He kept telling me his people were coming to get him."
When Duke Barr III arrived, he found his dad swapping hunting and fishing stories with Jessee and other staff at the weigh station.
"My mom kept saying those [troopers] are guardian angels, those are guardian angels. Give the Virginia state police a big kudos. Those guys are good," Barr said.
But, as Barr wrote in his e-mail, "the story doesn't end there."
They still had to retrieve his dad's SUV, which by then had been towed. Robert Young's Towing got the call because it was tops on the police rotation list that morning. Young towed the SUV to a lot off exit 150 -- at most 4 miles away. When he called the towing company, Barr said, a dispatcher "rudely" told him "that will cost you extra!" to release the vehicle to him on a Sunday.
According to Barr's receipt, the charge was $240 -- $145 for the tow, plus $45 for storage, plus another $50 for releasing the vehicle on a Sunday.
"I had little choice, but to agree," Barr wrote. "But it sounds like highway robbery to me."
It did to me, too. So on Monday I called Robert Young's Towing.
"That doesn't sound right," Robert Young said. He promised to investigate and call me back.
Tuesday, Young called Barr and said he would refund the storage fee and half the Sunday release fee -- a total of $70.
So Duke Barr Jr. is home safe, definitely not driving anymore, and his son isn't feeling quite so ripped off.
Love a happy ending.
Dan Casey's column runs Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday.