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'Even In Death,' Tow Truck-Driving NJ First Responder Will Continue To Save Lives

At the flag ceremony for Robert Thornton at Hackensack University Medical Center
At the flag ceremony for Robert Thornton at Hackensack University Medical Center Photo Credit: Contributed photos

The Stars & Stripes were raised and then lowered to half-staff in honor of a tow truck-driving first responder from Bergen County who was taken off life support this weekend after being gravely injured while responding to a call.

Robert Thornton, 31, of Ridgefield Park, was officially pronounced dead at Hackensack University Medical Center at 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 27, loved ones said.

Even in death, Thornton "will now save many lives," Moonachie First Aid & Rescue Squad Lt. Chris Yuhasz said.

Thornton's organs were harvested following a solemn ceremony Sunday that drew a large crowd of first responders, work colleagues and others. A hospital priest and Joseph S. Roth, president and CEO of NJ Sharing Network spoke.

ARRANGEMENTS: A tow truck procession escorted by police will honor Thornton shortly before visiting hours begin at 4 p.m. Friday, March 4, at Macagna-Diffily-Onorato Funeral Home. He'll then be cremated. READ MORE....

Following last weekend's hospital tribute, Nick's Towing Service called Thornton "a quiet young man who easily and quickly became part of the fabric of the NTS crew. He was laid back, friendly, and a genuinely nice human being. He enjoyed his work and did it well.

"Rob was someone who clearly believed in service to his community as evidenced by his choice of career, work as a volunteer EMT with the Moonachie First Aid & Rescue Squad, and even in death as an organ donor."

Thornton, whose parents are deceased, had been living in the village with his elderly grandmother.

He joined the Moonachie squad on April 20, 2019, obtained his EMR certification at the Bergen County EMS Training Center and "volunteered countless hours of time to our Squad," Yuhasz wrote.

Thornton was clearing an accident scene for Nick's when he was struck by an out-of-control vehicle on westbound Route 3 in Rutherford around 10:30 p.m. Feb. 13.

HORRIFIC ROUTE 3 CRASH: Tow Truck Driver Struck, Critically Injured Clearing Highway

Police had closed down several lanes, placing their vehicles and cones behind the initial two-car crash scene near Park Avenue between Route 17 and the Passaic River.

Thornton had one of the vehicles on the flatbed and was preparing the second when a three-vehicle crash occurred behind the police closure.

One vehicle hit another, spinning it out, Rutherford Police Chief John Russo said at the time.

The first vehicle then barreled "straight down the shoulder" and struck the car that Thornton was working on, the chief said.

Officers freed him from under the vehicle and rendered aid before Thornton was taken to HUMC.

"Another one of my family had been taken before their time. It's a big loss to all of us," Moonachie First Aid & Rescue Squad Capt. Franklin Smith said over the weekend.

"Volunteers in general are a dying breed," Smith said. "Our families are tight. We fight, we laugh, we cry, we do a special job together. Not for payment, or for praise, but because we were born to help others."

Thornton will continue to do so, he said.


Donations to Rob's grandmother were being accepted.

DONATE: Support for Rob, Tow Truck Driver & 1st Responder


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