STRANDED! PTC’s Kay Fulp iced in on I-285 for 27 hours

Jim and Kay Fulp, with “the little Honda that could.” Photo/Special.

Good Samaritans, not the government, rescued her

By Joyce Beverly

Fayette County Realtor Kay Sams Fulp drove up to Cobb County last week to do a walk-through with a client.

The forecast for Jan. 28 called for snow later in the day, but schools were open. She figured she’d be back before the storm hit. She left home with a full tank of gas, wearing a bulky sweater and a scarf but no coat.

“I mean, I was just running out,” she said.

At right, Jim and Kay Fulp, with “the little Honda that could.” Photo/Special.

She was on her way back to Fayette County by noon, which is about the time all the traffic maps around Atlanta began to turn stand-still red.

“I was going to be back before the storm,” Kay, an award-winning agent for Metro Brokers, told her friends on Facebook. “Bad planning on my part but I thought if the schools were opened, everything would be fine.”

The first 32 miles on the journey home took eight hours. She spent the rest of the night and halfway through the next day idling in her CRV near Camp Creek Parkway, finally making it to her driveway a full day later. She had spent 27 hours in her car.

“I don’t ever want to do that again,” she says.

Kay is married to an engineer, Jim. He’s self-employed, a planner, someone who thinks things through.

“My husband was like, how could you go out of the house without a coat?” she told me on the phone Thursday.

Aside from having no coat, Kay was probably more prepared to be stranded in her car than most. She gives Jim credit for starting the habit of stocking her car with supplies when she became a real estate agent. She keeps a small cooler in the car with snacks and water, a bucket, a roll of toilet paper, a trash can, hand wipes and other supplies that come in handy when you’re in new construction homes or a car all day. She had all of these things plus her cell phone charger, which kept the lifeline open to a large network of family and friends. She’s from Texas and has two brothers. You better believe her phone was lighting up.

Below, Kay Fulp shares her ordeal on Facebook.

Kay and I are friends on Facebook. We know each other because we communicated often when she was chair of Fayette’s popular Cattle Baron’s Ball and we sometimes play Words With Friends (WWF). (She’s good.) I saw her first post on Facebook around 4 p.m. Tuesday.

“Stuck in the snow storm in Atlanta. I’ve been trying to get home for 3 hours and am getting NO WHERE fast. Ugh... No end in site! K”

Two hours later:

“It has taken me 5 1/2 hours to go 25 miles and I have another 29 to go. If I’m lucky, I’ll make it home by midnight. K :/”

If only.

The next seven miles were harrowing. More than one 18-wheeler’s trailer slid into her lane, threatening to crush her CRV. Around 8 p.m., she posted:

“I’ve gone 32 miles in 8 hours and have 19 more miles to go. Still sitting on I-285. It’s a parking lot.”

“You’re gonna need a drink when you get home,” one friend commiserated.

“U will no doubt sleep well tonight,” another said.

“9 hours and 40 minutes. I’m NOT having fun. Help me stay positive with this yucky situation. Still not moving. :(“

“Hang in there honey,” and 40 other encouraging comments followed.

One friend reported an icy, unscalable hill had I-85S blocked at the I-285 interchange.

It was deja vu for me. In 2008, my parents were in the mass exodus fleeing Houston and Hurricane Ike. As they inched forward in traffic for more than eight hours, I could feel my hair turning gray. Earlier in the evening, my daughter-in-law hiked the last mile home after being in her car for seven hours. I asked Kay how far she was from home.

“Still 19 miles away, nothing is moving,” she replied. “Going to run out of gas eventually. Wish someone could tell me why we aren’t moving. North bound is moving fine.”

She was hoping to get to an exit.

“No one could get up the ramp,” at the last exit she said.

Friends sent her links to resources. I let her know about SnowedOutAtlanta’s Facebook group, and sent her a link to the AJC’s “Stranded in your car? Here’s what you should do.”

People were offering her places to stay, asking where she was, offering to come and get her, inviting her to play WWF.

“It might help ease your mind to play,” one friend said.

“I see this smiling face looking at me from your profile pix and you seem to be holding up well,” friend Kay Norton posted. “Oh the stories you can tell! Keep the faith Kay!”

“I was definitely scared,” she told me Thursday. “This had never happened to me before and to be out there and not know what was going to happen, if my car was going to die, if I was going to freeze to death, you know? I was worried about that. It really comforted me to know that people were out there.”

Around midnight, she realized she wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while. Cars were starting to run out of gas.

“You know you’re just going to have to hunker down for the night,” Jim told her on the phone.

The temperature was in the teens and dropping.

“I got a little emotional,” Kay recalls. “I said, ‘I can’t stay out here tonight. I’m going to freeze to death.’”

“I can try to come get you,” he suggested, to which Kay responded, ”You don’t understand. It’s a disaster out here and (besides) I don’t think you could find me.”

Still, the engineer was in mission mode, consulting maps and continually asking what she saw around her.

“He finally kind of pinpointed where he thought I was,” Kay said, but coming to her rescue wasn’t a viable option. They both knew it.

“Just stay in your car,” he told her. “Stay where everybody else is and we’ll get you through this.”

They both worried about her running out of gas. It was her younger brother who searched the internet to determine how long she could idle.

The answer for a CRV? Two and a half hours per gallon. She had a half tank of gas remaining, about seven gallons, which meant she’d wasn’t going to run out of gas before daylight. Everyone felt better after that. Through the night, she continued to receive calls, texts and FB messages.

“Are you okay,” her loved ones repeatedly asked.

Kay was reluctant to share this — she doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for her — but she has rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Being stuck in a car is particularly hard for someone with these conditions.

“It hurts your bones, staying stiff, straight” she explains. “I kept trying to stretch out, stand up, move around, but I’m in a CRV. There’s only so much room to move around.”

She was still stiff and sore on Saturday.

Around 4 a.m., she posted:

“Almost 16 hours and I’m still 19 miles from home. But... the traffic has started to move on the left side, so maybe there is light at the end of the tunnel. K : )”

Three friends were keeping the FB vigil with her.

“I’m still here for you!” Monique Leveillard Davis said.

A few minutes later she posts excitedly:

“I just saw the National Guard! I’m going to cry, they’re going to save the stranded cars. K :)”

“Hallelujah,” several responded.

“I just started clapping, I was so excited, ‘they are going to save us,” she told me.

Two hours later:

“18 hours stuck in my car, still 19 miles to home. Was excited for activity but we seem to have been forgotten. I’m a little delirious from lack of sleep and all the gas fumes. Still hopeful to get home sometime in the near future. K :/”

Thirty-three friends responded. One urged her to call 911 and tell them she was getting sick from fumes.

“Keep your window cracked a little,” another advised.

She rested with her scarf covering her face to filter the fumes.

At 7 a.m. her niece in Texas posted on Kay’s FB wall, vowing to” NEVER EVER complain about traffic again.”

“My poor aunt has been in gridlock traffic in ATL because of the winter storm for 18 hours just 19 miles from home along with countless others. Asking for prayers she makes it home safe and very very soon. Love you!!!”

Around 7:30 a.m., Kay posted a photo of her view at sunrise.

“19 1/2 hours I’m still 19 miles from home, I haven’t moved much at all. Took a short nap, now I’m ready to go home, wash my face and brush my teeth and go to bed.”

People shared her photo, and asked for prayers.

“Please keep my dear friend Kay Sams Fulp in your prayers,” Teri Smith Stanfield posted. “She is STILL on I-285... in the ‘little Honda that could.’ She is strong and brave but needs to be home safe with her hubby and dogs! Love you, Kay!”

Gradually, a community had formed among the stranded motorists.The night before, she loaned her phone to a guy who didn’t have a charger so he could call his wife. The truck driver next to her had waved through the window asking if she needed anything.

“I kind of put my hand up that I was okay,” she said.

A guy going for a hike for gas stopped to ask her if she needed anything. He shared a bottled water from a case he had in his car.

The next morning, the truck driver was out talking to the guy who borrowed her phone. They had the same charger so he was able to help him. Everyone with a working phone was calling someone. She talked about her neighbors based on where they were parked or what they drove.

“The guy in the far right lane by the concrete wall, (he was beside the car that borrowed my phone) he worked for Sonny Perdue. He called Sonny and said, ‘You gotta get somebody out here and rescue us. We’ve been out here all these hours.’”

Sonny’s guy flagged down the National Guard.

“He asked them when they were going to get us out of here and the national guard (guy) said ‘I have no idea. Everything’s blocked.’”

Around 9:45 a.m., she posted:

“21+ hours now, still 19 miles from home. Apparently, an 18 wheeler jack-knifed last night at 8 p.m. and they can’t get him moved. All exits are on incline and solid ice. I just called Fox 5 per my friend Lori Crowder-Rockwell and they said emergency vehicles can’t get to us. I told the lady at Fox that North bound is moving, please at least bring us food and water and/or pick us up for shelter. Gas is starting to run low, if I/we run out of gas, we have no heat and it’s kinda cold. Anyway, I’m blessed for all my friends and family who hung out with me through the night via Facebook and text. Hope to make it home soon and will keep you posted. K”

She reported having one bottle of water left.

“I’m going to drink it sparingly,” she said.

“I just want to come get you, Aunt Kay,” her niece said. “They should be on foot bringing y’all food, blankets, water, gas, anything! This is INSANE!!”

A few minutes later, Kay posts:

“National Guard just drove by and said they can’t help us!!!!! What the heck is going on around here. Not happy!”

I took a screen shot of that and sent it to a friend whose college buddy commands the National Guard. “What the heck” is more or less what I said too.

Around daylight Susan Stitt posted: “Thinking of starting a Facebook page called “Bring Kay Home!”

When it became clear no one was coming to the rescue, a couple of 20-something guys in hooded sweat jackets — not enough covering for this weather — knocked on her window.

“Listen, I have just talked to one of the radio stations and they told us this particular section that we’re in, there’s nothing they can do until the ice melts and that we would be here another 36 hours,” one said.

Kay knew she couldn’t stay there another 36 hours. The second guy told her about the plan they had devised to back cars up, turn them around and help them up an off ramp. They had already backed up about 50 cars behind her.

‘You need to start backing up unless you just want to sit here,” he said.

Kay called her husband and told him the plan. She put her phone on speaker so he could hear what they were saying. He stayed on the speaker until she made it to her destination.

The guys helped her negotiate the ice, telling her which way to steer, helping her get turned around and headed up the “really long” ramp.

“There were people, Good Samaritans, scattered throughout (the ramp) telling us where to go and what to do,” Kay recalled.

She had trouble in one spot, when a guide helped her navigate around a patch of sharp, tire-eating ice.

“I got stuck in the median,” she said. “He pushed me back off and told me how to miss all that.”

Exhausted and emotional, about 1:30 p.m. she made it to the top of the ramp and to a nearby gas station with Jim still on the phone. He told her to get gas, park if possible, get to the bathroom, get something to eat and get the address.

“I’m coming to get you,” he said.

“I’m like, ‘YAY!’” she said. “At that point I was just so tired and afraid I wouldn’t be able to think straight enough to get home.”

Around 1:30, one of her friends reported, “Friends, I just talked to Kay. Thank God for some good samaritans who got some cars turned around and up the on ramp. She’s at the Raceway on Campbellton Rd. Had some coffee, something to eat, a full tank of gas. She’s exhausted and scared but she is the strongest bravest woman I know. Jim is trying to get to her. Keep them both in her prayers. We want them both home safely, together!”

It took him over an hour, using back roads and ingenuity, but Jim arrived to lead her home. She started crying when she saw him.

“I just grabbed him and kissed him and kissed him and kissed him and said, ‘I’m sorry my breath is terrible.’ I’ve never been so excited to see him. Never.”

He hadn’t wanted her to go to the walk-through that day but there was no lecture, no “I told you so.” He was just ready for her to be home. She made it to the bottom of her icy driveway in Peachtree City around 3:30 p.m., 27 and a half hours after she had headed home from Cobb County the previous day.

She posted Thursday:

“Hey Everybody - I just wanted to say “Thank you” to EVERYONE for helping me through my ordeal. I will tell you I was scared and that knowing I had my FB Peeps and family and friends hanging with me through the night, kept me calm. I will forever be grateful and know that I’m here for you if you ever need me. Hugs and lots of love to all! K : )”

I am one of probably hundreds of people who feel as if they lived this with her. And there are hundreds of thousands more like us out there.

“When I left, it was just a normal day,” Kay said. “I thought, ‘I’m gonna go out there and get back’ and I never dreamed of what happened. For the most part, people don’t. I would definitely have been a little better prepared.”

If she’d had a coat, she may have hiked out earlier.

“The number one thing that I’m so happy I had with me was my phone charger,” Kay said in an email. “Without contact to my sphere of family and friends, I would have been very scared and lost. The luxury of staying in contact with everyone truly kept me calm. :-) My trashcan and water would have to come in #2 and 3, lol.”

She was still a little angry Thursday about the lack of help from the government, but the experience boosted her faith in humanity.

“People are good, you know?” she said. “At the end of the day that’s (the government) not who helped us. It was the Good Samaritans coming around saying... we’ve got to figure this out ourselves.”

Everyone rallied together.

“I believe in mankind,” Kay said. “Sometimes this crazy world we live in you forget. You lose trust in other people because everybody cares about themselves... I saw people pushing cars that could easily flip and roll right over them. They were really looking out to help other people and not thinking about themselves. That impressed me.”

And the “little Honda that could?”

“Sis,” brother Kevin said, “you can never get rid of that car.”

[Joyce Beverly is publisher of Fayette Woman [] and The Other Mother [], a guide for mothers of the groom.]

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