Drivers upset as abandoned vehicles are towed

Becky Campbell • Jan 18, 2013 at 10:03 PM

Abandoned vehicles became a major issue for emergency responders and utility workers during a fast-moving snowstorm that dumped wet, heavy snow all across the Northeast Tennessee region.

And the price to retrieve those vehicles became an issue for drivers.

Just ask Samantha Smith and her boyfriend, Henry Russell. He was forced to leave his car along North Roan Street near Oakland Avenue. According to Smith, her boyfriend ended up running from North Roan Street to Fordtown Road where she picked him up around 10 p.m.

Friday morning Smith took Russell to the spot he’d left his car, but it was gone.

Russell got his car back, but it cost him $135.

Russell wasn’t the only motorist whose vehicle was towed. According to 911, approximately 63 abandoned vehicles in the city and county were removed from roads by tow trucks.

Johnson City Police Sgt. Scotty Carrier said the vehicles were towed due to safety issues.

“Overnight we had to tow a lot of vehicles that had been abandoned, approximately 40 from Interstate 26 and North Roan Street just to get them out of the road because of a safety issue.”

Once snow plows started clearing roads and applying salt, workers couldn’t get through some areas because of all the abandoned cars.

Many of those vehicles, Carrier said, were left in the middle of the road, which caused a traffic hazard.

But the abandoned vehicles weren’t just a traffic hazard, they created a logistical problem as well.

Johnson City Power Board crews responding to outages found obstacle courses created by the abandoned vehicles.

“That was a major issue because we were going out trying to respond to the initial outage reports that we had, and we kept running into that over and over ... and when you’re talking about bucket trucks and bigger vehicles you use to restore power with, it made it really difficult to get through some of that,” said Robert White, chief public relations officer for the Power Board.

By 10 p.m., about 6,000 customers were without power, he said. By Friday afternoon, that number was down to 500, and White anticipated those outages would take most of the day to get back online.

“Those are the most difficult ones because they are more isolated cases that probably involve the most work. By then you’re finding you have a lot of damage to the infrastructure, so those are the most tedious ones to get restored,” he said.

One of the frustrations the Power Board faced during the storm was problems with phone lines, which kept some customers from being able to report outages.

White said those problems were worked out by Friday.

The entire system dropped more than four inches of snow across Washington County in about a three-hour time period, according to the National Weather Service in Morristown.

Meteorologist Sam Roberts said some parts of the Tri-Cities experienced a thundersnow — an event in which heavy snow falls over a short period of time — which is a rare occurrence anywhere, especially for this region.

“Some places were getting an inch up to two inches an hour, which is not common here,” he said.

Reports gathered throughout the night saw more than five inches fall in parts of Carter County, nearly seven inches of snow in parts of Greene County, more than five inches in Johnson County and more than six inches of snow in Unicoi County.

Temperatures remained just above freezing throughout the snowfall, Roberts said.

Once the temperature dropped after midnight, most of the rain and snow that had previously fallen froze on roads, creating slick conditions across the region.

“It definitely led to a lot of slick spots overnight and the early morning hours,” Roberts said.

Today’s forecast calls for a high near 48, with a low around 28.

Sunday is expected to have a high near 44, with a low around 23. Colder temperatures are expected to move in starting Monday night.

Officials warned that water on the roads is likely to refreeze overnight, so motorists should drive with caution.

Reach Becky Campbell at bcampbell@johnsoncitypress.com. Reach Madison Mathews at mmathews@johnsoncitypress.com.

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