When a polished and well-coiffed Pamela Turner walked amid applause to accept the first Zachary Chamber of Commerce Minority Enterprise Award, she was an industrious businesswoman and shining example. Outside of the little black dress and heels, she’s anything needed — first responder, business partner, leader — anytime needed.
The rising water of Friday, Aug. 12, 2016, hit south Louisiana, and, like most of her clients and neighbors, Turner expected a typical work day. Business was booming in the early morning hours while she didn’t realize that a flood would quickly turn into “the flood.”
“You always get a warning before the fall,” she said. “My last tow ended by my 97-year-old grandmother’s house, and she wanted me to stay to her house, but I wanted to go home.”
The water-soaked roads were making many streets in Zachary difficult, but Turner grew up in Zachary and was privy to a lot of alternatives. “I went down J.W. Wicker road and I saw two guys stranded on the side of the road, and I realized it was people I had previously gotten out of the ditch,” she said. “I couldn’t leave them.”
Turner helped her riders push their car into a nearby driveway and loaded the pair in her truck and immediately saw problems getting passage through Plank Road. After a three-point turn on water-soaked Plank, she returned to J.W. Wicker Road. “Right after I passed the S-curve, it seemed that I drove into a straight lake,” she said.
The truck stalled in the water and started briefly again before stopping amid rising waters. When Turner noticed that her truck was leaning on one side, she said she thought, ‘These people are not going to die on my watch.’
She opened the door to a rushing flow of water into the cab. She got out of the truck and immediately jumped on the back of her truck bed because she can’t swim. The passengers got out of the truck and started swimming but doubled back to help Turner find areas high enough that she could walk through instead of swimming. A nearby driver helped all three of them to safety.
Later that night, Turner went to look for her truck and realized the ongoing search-and-rescue mission was her own because responders feared she went under with her truck. The truck was still submerged except for the smokestacks.
After being drained, the truck was operational for a brief period before the damage proved it a total loss. “That’s when the nightmare started,” Turner said, referring to the efforts to get the truck fixed or replaced and the loss of earnings to the business. The disaster after the disaster went on for months until the business was able to find and purchase a new truck in Kent, Ohio.
The tow truck driver turned filmmaker documented her experience, "The Untowed Story," in an entry for a local documentary competition sponsored by NOVAC: Baton Rouge. Turner said she thought, “Instead of telling someone else’s story, I’ll tell my own.”
Turner’s back story included some filmmaking and production training. NOVAC: Baton Rouge produced the series with assistance from the Foundation for Louisiana and the Office of Community Development of Baton Rouge. The short films highlight the community’s response to the violence surrounding the deaths of Alton Sterling and three peace officers in summer 2016, along with the struggles brought forth by the August flood.
According to a news release, the documentaries were produced using a community-engagement model, where NOVAC: BR created four short documentaries in partnership with local filmmakers and creative industry trainees. NOVAC: BR then awarded five $500 micro-grants to local filmmakers who created their own short documentaries, and Turner’s concept was one of the five.
Turner is an example of how the community benefits both economically and socially from businesses like Lee’s Towing, said Taylor Watts, executive director of the Zachary Chamber of Commerce. Watts said in addition to praise of the business, the nominations included praise for Turner as a hero and valuable asset to the community.
Watts helped craft the criteria for the Minority Enterprise Award, and it included that the honored business be at least 51 percent owned or managed by a minority. The voting took into consideration the challenges and adversities the nominee has overcome, business growth and performance, leadership in business and in the community, and the nominee’s community involvement.
Both Turner and Lee’s Towing have strong Zachary roots. Turner grew up in Zachary and graduated from Zachary High before attending Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, majoring in pre-med and biology. She worked for FEMA for a couple of years before deciding when she was 25 to take the reins of the family towing business that started in March 2008.
Turner will be 35 in a week with no end in sight as she strives to perfect the business and serve her community. “You meet all kinds of people from all walks of life, but I try to treat everyone the same, the way I want to be treated,” she said.
That treatment isn’t always a life-or-death situation, but Turner’s customers, like Angie Marshall, know when they seemed to need it most, Turner was there. Marshall sang praises for Lee’s Towing when Turner came to her family’s rescue in 2014. “Thank you so much for your help. It means so much to us that you were so quick and professional,” Marshall wrote. “Especially when we were left stranded and waiting on the side of the highway with our four kids by another towing company. We will definitely recommend you to everyone we know.”
Turner said to better serve the community, she is WreckMaster-certified, an advanced training that helps her stay abreast of current business practices. She has also graduated from the North American Towing Academy. “That’s makes me a little different from everybody else,” she said. “I sit in trainings, I go to tow shows so I will know what to do when I’m out there.”
WreckMaster was created to satisfy the towing industry’s desire to be recognized as a skilled trade. WreckMaster provides a training system that works in the best interest of the public and towing services.
“There is no perfect driver,” Turner said. “But I try to specialize in damage-free towing. I can guarantee a damage-free tow if all four wheels are moving.”
“You never know what you are going to encounter when you go on a tow. My main goal is to be effective, efficient and help people.”
To see "The Untowed Story," visit online at https://youtu.be/xHgUNjYdV9g.