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Father Killed In ORV Recovery Accident When Tow Hitch Snapped

Jun 12, 2023Jun 12, 2023

Ryan Woods was only 43 years old when he was killed instantly by a tow hitch snapping back into his truck.

Off-roading might take place at lower speeds than a track day, but the activity is not without its risks. Rough terrain or improper technique can leave you and your vehicle stranded with few options for an easy recovery. As one family from Kingsman, Arizona, learned earlier this year, trying to get out of one of these situations without proper planning can prove deadly.

According to a report from AZ Family, Ryan and Jennifer Woods were off-roading with their three kids around the Kingsman area on July 26th. The southwest was well into its annual monsoon season at that point, with many of the local ORV trails becoming slogged with loads of slick mud. Ryan was reportedly an avid off-roader, and was enjoying these challenging trail conditions with his family until becoming stuck in a deep hole. The couple's Super Duty was buried up to the frame in mud according to their GoFundMe page, with Ryan's rear locker unable to lend a helping hand. The father of three would then make a call to a friend who he had shared off-roading experiences with, requesting assistance in freeing his truck. This friend of more than 20 years would quickly make their way to the Woods family's location, bringing along their own 4x4 pickup, a chain, a 3-inch static tow strap, and a long drop hitch with a 2-inch ball attached.

While many of us have likely made a recovery with a similar set-up, what happened next on that July afternoon is exactly why utilizing proper equipment is so important. After looping that chain through the recovery points on the front of the Woods’ truck, the tow strap was then attached to the assisting truck's ball hitch. After a couple of short tugs proved unsuccessful at moving the drowned Super Duty, the pair of wheelers decided a running start was in order to break the truck free. The added stress brought on by this running start proved to be too much for the drop hitch intended for towing, shearing it off the truck in the process. The energy still built up within the static strap sent that large chunk of metal flying back towards the Woods' vehicle, where it would enter the windshield on the driver's side. The hitch would smash through with such force that it broke the top half of the steering wheel before coming in contact with Ryan. The father of three died instantly according to his wife, with his three children behind him in the back seats, unfortunately bearing witness to the whole ordeal.

"My husband and him just thought that they were doing it right," Woods told AZ Family. "But obviously it wasn't."

Tempting as it may be to avoid a call to a local recovery service when stuck on the trails, the gear carried by those professionals is specifically designed for this type of situation. According to Colorado 4x4 Rescue and Recovery, a drop hitch is not engineered to withstand the forces that are present during an off-road recovery, particularly due to the force multiplication at play with this type of hitch. If you’re ever going to be pulling on or from a trailer hitch on a 4x4, you need to ensure that you have the proper insert, specifically one that can be used with recovery shackles. Also be sure you are never exceeding the weight limits printed on that hitch, and always take the other vehicle's weight into account. Situations where a vehicle is up to the frame like in the Woods family's case also increases the amount of weight your hitch is going to need to be able to support. A static tow strap isn't ideal in this situation either, where a proper winch with synthetic lines or rated recovery straps would prove much safer. The Woods family are actively advocating for the use of these items following this tragic accident.

Ryans Woods was only 43 years old. He is survived by his wife and their three children aged 27, 13 and 10. If you would like to support the family during these times, a link to their GoFundMe page can be found here. Please take a moment to consider this situation before heading out on your next off-roading adventure, and remember the importance of proper safety equipment regardless of the type of driving you love to do.

Born and raised in Metro Detroit, associate editor Lucas Bell has spent his entire life surrounded by the automotive industry. He may daily drive an aging Mustang, but his Porsche 944 and NB Miata both take up most of his free time.

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