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When Bay Area roads are in absolute chaos, this is who you call

Owner Doug Diego (left) and Oscar Portillo (right) after recovering a car near the Corte Madera Hills in 2017. | Courtesy Diego Truck Repair

In 40 years of pulling cars out of swimming pools, hauling them up cliffs and even flipping over a big rig semitruck on the Bay Bridge Tuesday, “Big” Butch Archuleta has seen it all.

Archuleta’s San Leandro Towing is one of the companies the California Highway Patrol turns to when large trucks topple over on any of the Bay Area’s bridges.

Righting the toppled truck on the Bay Bridge took four hours for the towing company, a pretty quick turnaround, according to Archuleta.

“It was fast,” Archuleta said. 

A big rig semitruck rolled over on the Bay Bridge, causing major delays and blocking four lanes of the eastbound section on Tuesday. | Courtesy California Highway Patrol

For tipped over big rig trucks, Archuleta said that he uses two four-axle Peterbilt trucks with swiveling cranes that can lift 100,000 pounds each.

“We catch it in the air, with two of us, and then let it down,” Archuleta said. “The cranes go 360 degrees, so you can get into a lot of tight spots.”

A big rig truck that toppled over on the Bay Bridge Tuesday was hoisted back onto its wheels by two tow trucks with heavy-duty cranes. | Courtesy San Leandro Towing

The truck fell over on the bridge’s lower deck, snarling traffic for hours and presenting unique challenges to righting the vehicle, Archuleta said.

There’s a height limit on the lower deck, restricting the crane’s arm. And there’s the actual bridge surface itself—the metal legs that support the tow truck as its crane lifts a heavy load, called “outriggers,” can punch through the road surface and cause the tow truck to fall over itself.

A tow truck with a crane capable of lifting 100,000 pounds was used to lift a truck that fell over on the Bay Bridge Tuesday. | Courtesy California Highway Patrol

But you don’t always need trucks with swiveling cranes to handle tipped over trucks either. Another truck tipped over on the Richmond-San Rafael bridge on March 14, and Greenbrae-based Diego Truck Repair used three tow trucks with cranes to pull the vehicle back onto its wheels, using the trucks themselves to block high winds.

“I’ve been pulling them off the Richmond bridge my whole career,” said owner Doug Diego. “I’ve been towing since ’73.”

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A big rig truck tipped over on the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge due to high winds on March 14. | Courtesy Diego Truck Repair

Diego said trucks can tip over in high wind when they are empty, and that winds on the bridge that day were as high as 60 mph. Trucks can also tip over when they are cut off by other vehicles and have to swerve to avoid a crash.

“The momentum just causes them to tip over,” Diego said.

Beyond lifting up toppled big rigs, tow companies like those owned by Diego and Archuleta also deal with cars that have careened off of cliffs, been driven into swimming pools, or have been stolen and need to be repossessed. Archuleta said his company handles tricky jobs that insurance companies, who mainly deal with normal road accidents, are either unwilling or unequipped to do.

“We do the jobs others don’t want to do,” Archuleta said. “No two jobs are the same, that’s what keeps the job interesting.”

A big rig semitruck (right) was turned back on its wheels by a crane attached to a tow truck (left) after the truck rolled over on the Bay Bridge. | Courtesy California Highway Patrol

San Francisco’s California Highway Patrol branch said it contracts with local towing companies that have the heavy-duty equipment to lift up large trucks and tractors that topple over on highways and bridges. The companies have to go through a rigorous application process before they are approved to do jobs for CHP.

“Only a select few of those companies are equipped with larger, specialized ‘heavy duty’ tow trucks, which are capable of completing this type of work for overturned big rigs,” a CHP SF spokesperson said.