COVINGTON — Newton County resident Jacob Eastman was longing for the four-wheel drive vehicle he has at home Wednesday morning as he sat in his company SUV, stranded on Ga. Highway 212 in DeKalb County.
Eastman, 31, who lives with his wife, Stephanie, in the Butler Bridge Road area of Newton County, was caught up in Atlanta’s weather-related traffic nightmare caused by a couple of inches of snow, followed by crippling ice, and thousands of commuters who all tried to leave the city at once.
Eastman was stranded on Atlanta’s roadways for more than 20 hours before he was finally able to make it home at about 2:20 p.m. Wednesday. For most of that time he had nothing to eat or drink — other than a banana — and little to no sleep.
Eastman said his ordeal began at about 4 p.m. Tuesday when he headed home from work in Alpharetta. He first became stranded in his company’s small SUV on Interstate 285. He said it took him nine hours to go from Exit 10 to Exit 4, with stranded and abandoned vehicles all over the roadway.
Eastman said he saw no evidence that transportation officials in metro Atlanta had prepared Tuesday for the snow and ice.
“They knew it was coming and none of the roads had been salted,” he said. “They did nothing. … There was not a single salt truck on the interstate.”
Luckily, Eastman had filled up his SUV with gas Tuesday morning and was able to keep his cell phone charged.
“I’ve got a little less than half a tank now,” he said Wednesday, “and I’ve only gone about 40 miles.”
Overnight Tuesday Eastman said he tried to get some sleep in the car, but it was difficult with the lights and horns of other vehicles. He said he was awakened at about 5:30 Wednesday morning by officers with the Georgia National Guard.
“They were knocking on windows (Wednesday) morning, but they didn’t have anything with them,” he said. “They didn’t have any blankets or water; they were just asking if people were OK.”
Throughout the night Eastman said he passed by a school bus that had hit six cars; he saw numerous tractor trailer trucks spin out and block the roadway and dozens of cars that had skidded across the roadway and been abandoned.
“That’s the thing,” he said. “Once a semi gets going, they’ve got traction, but getting going is a problem. They kept spinning out and jack-knifing.”
Eastman said he was able to make some progress and reach Ga.Highway 212 in DeKalb County Wednesday, but once there, he encountered another obstacle on the two-lane road. He described Ga. 212 as a “solid ice rink.”
“Everybody’s spun out; I can see probably 23 or 24 cars right in front of me spun out,” he said Wednesday morning.
Eastman said his vehicle had also skidded across the road and he decided to stay put.
He said some residents in the area had allowed stranded drivers to use their bathrooms.
“One lady gave me a banana, which was nice,” he said, along with other residents of the Sandstone Estates neighborhood who tried to lend a hand.
Some of those who came to help wound up needing help themselves, he said. Two patrol cars from the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office were stranded along with him, as well as a car from the Clayton County Sheriff’s Office.
“The guy from Clayton County was coming to get another one of their guys to take him to work, and he got stuck,” Eastman said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, however, Eastman's luck began to change. A Good Samaritan with sand on the back of his truck and a scraping tool he called a "splicer" came to the rescue. Eastman said together they scraped ice and put sand under the wheels of seven or eight other stranded vehicles and were able to clear the roadway.
Once he got home, Eastman said he wanted some down time with his family.
"I want to go to sleep, but my dog needs my attention, and my wife, too. They're both glad to see me," he said.
He said he'd get some rest Wednesday night and be ready to go back to work today.
For now, though, he's not planning any extended road trips.
"Twenty-two and a half hours in a car. No fun," he said.