While Saturday’s projected snow isn’t expected to be as hazardous as what blew through Grass Valley midday Tuesday dropping 4 inches of snow and stranding scores of drivers, responders said there are lessons that should be heeded.
“The first thing people need to do is not abandon their car,” said Doug Bigley, owner of Celestial Valley Towing, which had more than 100 calls for service during the storm.
“But the first thing people do is abandon their car,” Bigley said. “If you do, be prepared for it to not be there when you get back.”
Tuesday’s storm only lasted a few hours, beginning around 10:30 a.m., with peak accumulated snow amid near whiteout conditions occurring around noon. During that time, Nevada County’s dispatch center was inundated with calls, too. Nearly 40 came from Grass Valley alone.
“Ever year this happens,” said Dina Hernandez, public information officer for the California Highway Patrol.
“It just baffles me that we have do this every year.”
Abandoned cars cause the bulk of traffic issues during a storm, said area law enforcement representatives.
“It’s always the guy that gets out of his car and walks away that causes the grief,” Bigley said. “They are also the people that come by first thing in the morning and are furious.”
Roads where cars blocked traffic included both west and east Main streets, Sierra College Boulevard and Ridge Road, said Capt. Rex Marks of the Grass Valley Police Department. Roads were also blocked at the intersection of Loma Rica Drive and Brunswick Road and on Highway 20 at Omega Road, both due to jackknifed trucks.
One abandoned car creates a domino effect behind it, Bigley said.
“There were so many abandoned cars downtown that I had to abandon my car and walk home,” said Brian Johnson, pastor at Bethel Church, in an email to The Union. “Walked a mile and a half in the snow.”
Just as people were leaving work and the snowfall peaked, Nevada Union High School, off Ridge Road, called off classes over the noon hour.
“What made it worse was that both schools let out at 12:30 (p.m.),” Johnson wrote. “That was it, the nail in the coffin.”
All four of the area’s law enforcement agencies contract with Bigley’s, Hernandez, Fischer and Celestial towing companies to get those cars off the road, Marks said, with each responding in a rotation.
“It’s not like we grab cars off the side of the road,” said Ryan Condon, owner of Advanced Towing and Transport. “It doesn’t work that way. That would be grand theft auto.”
If a vehicle is not blocking traffic, it might not necessarily get towed, Hernandez said.
“But their definition of ‘off the road’ and ours don’t always match,” Hernandez said, noting that a vehicle must be pulled completely off the side of the road, past the white line.
Wendy Davis was on her way to a business meeting heading west on Brunswick when she found traffic clogged because of a stuck truck.
“On this road, people had to walk away from their cars,” Davis said. “They had no other option.”
Even though Davis claims her vehicle was not blocking traffic, when she returned several hours later, her silver Mazda 6 was gone.
“People’s cars are being held hostage for horrible fees that are above and beyond anything responsible,” Davis said. “This screams of scam.” But Hernandez said officers have a job to clear the roadway.
“If we don’t, we are liable,” she said. “What happens if a family of four hits a vehicle and finds out we didn’t tow it?”
Even if a driver thinks his car is out of the way, people still swerve to avoid it, which can lead to wrecks, Hernandez said.
“If you get stuck in the snow and can’t go any further, we ask they do not leave their car,” Hernandez said, unless they are in danger of a collision.
“At least find a place close by and get out of harm’s way or make a call to let us know you have made arrangements,” she said.
Often, if a stuck driver remains with a vehicle, someone will stop to help, Bigley said.
It happens so frequently, that Bigley’s crew prioritizes responses to those where people remain with their cars over abandoned vehicles.
“We have learned to be more selective with the calls we get and make sure the calls we get will still be there when we get there,” he said.
Prices for a tow can start at $200 with fees accruing for every day it is not retrieved.
“People need to be prepared for the weather. It isn’t like we didn’t know it was coming,” Marks said. “Anybody that has lived here should have known.”
But on a day like Tuesday, when the weather forecasts called for 100 percent certainty of mid-day snow that cleared up by late afternoon as predicted, Condon wonders why people are compelled to come to work in the first place or leave work during the peak of the storm.
“Instead of making sure to try to call in and take the day off, now they have spent three times as much as they would have lost in not getting paid,” Condon said. “It is better to not go or stay longer at work.”
The inundation of calls and response to calls that eventually get out on their own can have very real consequences to legitimate towing needs, Marks said.
During the peak of Tuesday’s storm, an elderly, handicapped man’s vehicle had its transmission fail in front of the Sutton Way Walgreens and could not get service for four hours, Marks said.
Even worse, if the roads are blocked by people who should not have been on the road in the first place, emergency crews can not get through to their destinations, Marks said.
“If your vehicle is not equipped properly to begin with, it should not be there,” Marks said. “It is their obligation to get the vehicle out of the roadway.”
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4236.
“Ever year this happens. It just baffles me that we have do this every year.”
— DINA HERNANDEZ,
CHP public information officer