Unfortunately, some local individuals were stranded on roadways, at warming stations and in hotels in Jefferson County.
R.J. Ganey of Jasper started his Tuesday like every other normal weekday. He woke up, got ready and drove to his office located in the Galleria Towers in Riverchase. Ganey, who is the manager of mining projects with Walter Energy, didn’t expect Tuesday to turn out like a scene from a disaster movie.
“I usually leave around 5:30 a.m. I didn’t think anything about the weather because it was only supposed to be a dusting. I guess it was around 9 something that I started getting a little concerned, and I had a 10 o’clock conference call. By the time I got out of that conference call and got out, it was a few minutes until 11,” Ganey said. “... I had gotten from the front of the Galleria and had gone maybe a mile-and-a-half in a little over an hour, and that was it.”
While he was trying to get over into another lane, his tires kept spinning out. Luckily, Ganey was able to book a room at the Hyatt Place on Hwy. 150. He said it took him more than four hours to drive approximately three miles, and a large majority of area hotels were quickly filling up.
On the other side of Birmingham, Jennifer Lawson, her 6-year-old son Caden and her boyfriend’s mother were headed to Caden’s 9 a.m. doctor appointment. Caden has cerebral palsy and is unable to walk without assistance. He had spinal surgery last Monday at Children’s Hospital to possibly help him walk. After the checkup Tuesday, the three left for his 10 o’clock physical therapy appointment on 3rd Ave. in Birmingham.
Due to his surgery, Caden’s doctors suggested that he and his mother stay in a nearby hotel because Caden does not need to sit in an upright position for long periods of time. By 11:30 a.m., the therapy session was complete and the three of them pulled onto a packed University Blvd. Little did they know what was in store for them.
According to an email by Lawson’s boyfriend Sloane Banks, “Four hours later, running on fumes, they were forced to get out of line right at the 65 South on-ramp in order to get gas at the Chevron. After filling up no one would allow them to get back over to the on-ramp lane, and they were forced to go back down University where they had just came.”
Restaurants and fast food eateries had closed down for the night and would not allow anyone inside, which caused the three to end up at St. Vincent’s Hospital trying to devise a plan. By 5:30 p.m. they had made it to the Flying J gas station off Daniel Payne but were told roads were impassable and to prepare for staying the night on the road.
“... a panicked decision was made to get back on 65 ... By 6 p.m. they had made it to 6th Ave., pretty good progress, but that’s where it slowed again,” Banks wrote. “From there they were able to make it between exits 256B and 256A, the hotel and the Lakeshore exit are in sight. The time, midnight ... roads are officially closed.”
Lawson called the highway patrol and the Homewood Police Department, but neither were able to help them. Finally, around 1:15 a.m. Wednesday, Steve Walker — a man Banks calls “a genuine good Samaritan looking to give a hand where he could” — pulled up on his 4-wheeler offering his service. By 1:45 a.m. Caden was finally asleep and tucked into a warm bed.
Sandy Lawrence, another Jasper native, was working at Compressed Air Technologies in Alabaster when she noticed the white flakes falling to the ground.
Lawrence, the office manager, said she had left at 11 a.m. heading toward her home, and traffic was moving smoothly until she reached the Valleydale Road exit.
“I managed to get about half a mile from Hwy. 31 (exit 252), and it was gridlocked,” Lawrence said. “I was stranded until about 1:15 a.m. this [Wednesday] morning, and that’s when Hoover Police and Hoover Fire and Rescue got a bus to us and took us to a warming station at the Hoover Safety Center.”
She continued to say, “They provided us with cots to sleep on and refreshments. They did an awesome job taking care of us, and the last I heard there were about 105 [people] there.”
After the roads were checked and they were given the OK to leave, Lawrence and others loaded a bus and was given a police escort to their vehicles around 11:25 a.m. Wednesday. She said fuel was also provided for those who were on empty.
Between the time the snow started to come down and they pulled onto the major highways and interstates, all three individuals knew they were in for an “insane” experience they would not soon forget.
“I knew if we didn’t take the ride, we wouldn’t make it back to the hotel,” Lawson said. “I really think he was God sent to help us!”
Both Ganey and Lawrence were somewhat prepared for the “snow jam of 2014,” as some are referring to it. Lawrence said she had plenty of gas with snacks and water in her car, while Ganey said he had a pair of insulated coveralls and ski gloves in his truck that he had previously placed in his vehicle during the first cold spell that hit the state a few weeks ago. Their words of wisdom are always be prepared on the road.
“Fix an emergency kit for your car with the basics — water, snacks, blanket, etc.,” Lawrence said, “because you never know when something like this is going to happen.”
“Keep stuff in your vehicle just in case. Then, when the weather gets nice, you can take it out,” Ganey said. “I would recommend keeping warm clothing or blankets or anything like that just in case, and keep some water, maybe some granola bars or snacks, at least during the winter time.”
As far as other drivers and pedestrians who remained in their cars and trucks on the roadways, Ganey said, “I feel so sorry for these people. My heart just goes out to them.”