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Funeral procession a fitting tribute for tow-truck driver killed on the job

It may not have been a typical funeral procession: dozens of tow trucks trailing behind a family in mourning. But for Tim Schroeder, it seemed a fitting tribute.

Hundreds of people turned out Wednesday to honor the Atwater tow truck driver who died on the job last week. At his funeral in Merced, family and friends remembered Schroeder as a hard worker, an avid outdoorsman and a playful, loving father.

"I don't think Tim was any great philosopher," his brother-in-law, Jeff Kaufman, said. "But his actions showed that he knew what was really important in life."

Schroeder, 46, died Saturday while responding to an early-morning call along Highway 99. He was preparing to connect a car to the back of his tow truck when a big-rig drifted onto the shoulder and struck him.

The big-rig driver, 58-year-old John Hamersley, of Sacramento, isn't believed to have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the CHP has said. It still hasn't been determined whether he'll face any criminal charges.

Born in Ceres and the middle of three brothers, Schroeder graduated from Merced High School. He married his wife, Suzanne, in 1985.

"Here's one remarkable thing I can say about Tim and Suzanne that I'm not sure I can say about any other couple that's been married that long: I never saw them fight," Kaufman recalled. "Not once."

They went on to have two children. Schroeder's teenaged daughter, Sarah, said she remembers her dad as "the best father I could ask for."

He was a longtime member of the Merced Elks Lodge, and he loved helping host the club's bingo night, friends recalled. Several regular players attended the funeral.

Schroeder also was an avid fishermen. Two fishing poles and a worn San Francisco 49ers cap sat next to his urn during the service.

He had worked at Performance Towing in Merced for about five months. He's the second Performance employee to be killed in the last two weeks. Randall Armendariz Sr., 41, was fatally shot Nov. 24. Police believe he died after confronting a thief who stole one of Performance's service vehicles.

After Armendariz's death, Schroeder spent days gathering donations to benefit his co-worker's family.

"It's been real hard on everybody here," said Jason Casado, who worked with Schroeder. "To lose two guys so close together is just...we're hurting."

Casado said he called every towing company in Merced and asked them to participate in the procession that preceded Schroeder's funeral. "They all wanted to do it," he said. "We're kind of all one big family so they're feeling it too." Riggs Ambulance Service, the CHP and Cal-Fire also sent representatives to honor Schroeder. Police blocked roads to make way for the noon procession.

"We just miss him," Casado said. "He was a real good guy."

Jeff Hunter, executive director of the California Tow Truck Association, said Schroeder is the second tow truck driver in the state to be hit in the last month while responding to a call.

At least three California tow truck drivers have died on-scene this year, he said.

"It's an incredibly dangerous occupation," Hunter said. "A lot of people don't realize that."

There's only so much drivers and tow companies can do to minimize that danger, he added. "It's really unfortunate. In cases like this one, there's just nothing you can do.

"That risk is always going to come with the territory."

Reporter Corinne Reilly can be reached at (209)385-2477 or creilly@mercedsun-star.com.

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