Worst of times brings out best in Cobb residents
by Nikki Wiley
January 30, 2014 07:02 PM | 2886 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Marietta police officer Michael Rozco, left, tells Powder Springs resident Teresa Turner on Tuesday that if she wants a ride to an emergency shelter, it’s time to go. Turner took that advice and was transported to the shelter.
Marietta police officer Michael Rozco, left, tells Powder Springs resident Teresa Turner on Tuesday that if she wants a ride to an emergency shelter, it’s time to go. Turner took that advice and was transported to the shelter.
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MARIETTA — If traffic nightmares typically bring out the worst in metro Atlanta drivers, Tuesday was a welcomed exception producing countless unsung heroes who braved the winter elements in Cobb to help stranded strangers.

Elderly wheelchair-bound motorists and passengers were rescued by good Samaritans with heavy-duty four-wheel drive trucks and snow chains. Strangers came to the aid of a pregnant woman experiencing contractions. Business owners stayed late, employees volunteering to help off the clock, allowing the weary and hungry to seek refuge and eat from store shelves.

When snowfall began at 10 a.m. Tuesday, employees and parents hit the roads hoping to outrun the worst of the snow. What they saw was a gridlocked highway system in Cobb and thousands of other drivers attempting the same nearly impossible feat.

Hundreds found their vehicles unable to climb icy hills or gain traction on slippery slopes. Many abandoned their cars and embarked on long treks to find shelter.

Strangers spring into action online

When Michelle Sollicito of Marietta arrived home after picking up her children at school, barely beating Tuesday’s traffic congestion, she realized many of her friends were stranded and in need of help.

But many were hard to reach, even for public safety personnel.

“I got on the Internet to find out what was going on, and it was very clear that a lot of my friends had husbands who were stuck out there. And I had a lot of friends who could also help those husbands,” said Sollicito, president of eBarster, an online advertising company.

Sollicito created the Facebook page “SnowedOutAtlanta.”

The power of social media proved true.

By Thursday afternoon, the group had more than 55,000 members.

“I guess they told their friends and they all told their friends, and I guess it all snowballed,” Sollicito said.

Though most members Thursday shifted their focus to writing about their experiences after the fact, Sollicito said the group had a different story to tell during the thick of Tuesday’s snowstorm.

Many members turned to the page in desperation.

A woman eight months pregnant and having contractions pleaded for help after spending more than 12 hours in her vehicle. Not only did she go into labor, but she also cared for her 3-year-old son who sat in the back of her car.

Sollicito called 911, but law enforcement and public safety officials couldn’t reach the woman.

When Sollicito shared the story, a stranger immediately set out to help the woman.

“No one could get to her so one of the guys in the group had a four-wheel drive and chains on his truck, so he went out and found her,” Sollicito said.

A terrible situation made tolerable

Jerry Godwin of Marietta bought about 500 pounds of sand out of his own pocket to spread along the intersection of Old Canton and Roswell roads and helped push dozens of vehicles to safety.

“I just don’t feel like people should be in that situation,” Godwin said.

Still, he points to the individuals who helped him as the real heroes.

“The very first thing I saw that made me know it wasn’t going to be horrible, there were some girls walking down Mimosa and just checking on people,” Godwin said.

The girls couldn’t help stuck cars and didn’t have food or drink to offer, but they spent their time attempting to cheer up frustrated drivers.

Another man approached Godwin’s vehicle offering to help in whatever way he could.

“One guy just came up to my truck and said, ‘Hey do you need anything? I’ve got drinks in my house and you’re welcome to them,’” Godwin said.

He eventually found himself alongside other stranded Cobb residents inside a Walgreens at the intersection of Piedmont and Roswell roads.

“I think I fell asleep for about a half hour off and on, on the floor at the Walgreens,” Godwin said. “The people there were great.”

It was there he met a man he only knows by his first name, Hayes.

Hayes spent his night driving strangers to their homes. Five people who sought refuge at the Walgreens climbed inside Hayes’ large SUV ready to make it home.

“He said he’d been out there since 10 o’clock and the chains on the SUV were borrowed from the first person he helped,” Godwin said.

It’s the compassion of new friends, Godwin said, that helped make a terrible situation tolerable.

“It’s hard to describe,” Godwin said. “At the end of the day, I feel bad I couldn’t do the same. I just didn’t have a vehicle capable or chains.”

Firefighter helps pregnant woman

Cobb Fire Lt. Dan Dupree took to Cobb Parkway in his county-issued Ford Expedition equipped with a push bumper and snow chains to make way for the lines of standstill traffic that extended as far as the eye could see.

“Two trucks were blocking the road and they were spinning, so I used my trucks to help them,” Dupree said.

Dupree was approached by a woman who was eight months pregnant and had been traveling for 12 hours trying to make it from Douglas County to Acworth.

Upset and unsure of how to get home, the woman climbed inside Dupree’s Expedition.

Two hours later, the woman was safe and sound at home.

Marietta Police spokesman David Baldwin recalled the actions of one of his colleagues, Officer Eric Henderson, who hopped in the back of a truck shoveling sand on a large hill at Roswell Road and Greenbriar Parkway.

“For the next quarter of a mile, he helped them sand the roadway,” Baldwin said.

The roads were so congested that sand trucks could not travel down them, forcing public works crews to stand in the backs of the vehicles tossing sand under tires.

All along Cobb’s streets, Dupree said, motorists were outside pushing struggling cars up hills and helping get vehicles that couldn’t make the trip any longer to the shoulder of the road.

He was encouraged to see residents spreading sand along roads, offering strangers a place to sleep and carrying food to motorists stuck in the traffic.

“It shows the good side of people,” Dupree said.

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