Just Stay Home
CHIEF WARRANT OFFICER 5 GREGORY J. REICKS
Nebraska Army National Guard
Joint Force Headquarters
It was a fairly typical January morning in the Midwest when I headed out for my monthly individual duty training assembly weekend in my hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska. There were several inches of snow on the ground already and more was on the way. Fortunately, my Army unit would be conducting indoor training and maintenance due to the severe cold, ice and potential for bad weather.
My wife, Ann, had the weekend to herself and planned to spend some time at a gym about five miles from our house. She was part of a great social group that held each other accountable and encouraged one another to attend exercise classes, especially on the weekends. Additional snow was heading into the area later in the morning, but there appeared to be a break and Ann wanted to get in her workout before the weather arrived. She tried to call me to ask about the road conditions, but I had turned off my phone during formation and morning meetings. Since I hadn’t called to tell her otherwise, she assumed it would be safe to head out. We have an attached garage and Ann left the house wearing only her workout clothes — shorts, a T-shirt and gym shoes.
The roads in our neighborhood usually stay fairly snow packed throughout winter, especially in January. The snow was beginning to cover the main road to the gym, but Ann felt it was still safe enough to drive at the 45 mph speed limit. Along the road is a T intersection that feeds traffic from several neighborhoods. However, drivers must stop before entering the main road.
As my wife drove along, a large SUV hauling a family that was running late for a church event approached the intersection. The driver was going too fast for the road conditions and slid through the stop sign at the same time Ann was passing by. The SUV slammed into her car, T-boning the passenger door. The collision pushed the car off the road, over a fire hydrant and into a shallow ditch. Thankfully, the hydrant didn’t spew water, but it completely ripped the front end, engine and transmission from her car. The SUV sustained front bumper and grill damage from the impact but was still drivable.
The driver of the SUV immediately called 911, and a police officer who lived in the neighborhood arrived within a couple of minutes. Fortunately, no one required medical care. Still, it was extremely cold outside and the snow was increasing. My wife, dressed in her workout clothes, didn’t have an emergency blanket, jacket, hat or gloves to keep warm as she was interviewed by the police officer. He eventually allowed her to sit in the backseat of his cruiser while he issued the SUV driver a citation for failing to stop at the intersection.
Once my meetings at drill were finally over, I turn on my phone. A co-worker and friend called to tell me Ann was involved in an accident. It was a horrible call to get. I broke away from drill and went to the scene, where my wife was still sitting with the police officer. She was shaken up, scared, embarrassed and cold, but she was also safe and uninjured. Ann missed her gym class that morning, the family in the SUV missed their event and I missed the remaining day of Guard drill.
Ann and I both learned some important lessons that day, the first being to consider whether driving in inclement weather conditions is even necessary. On this morning, no one should have been on the roads if they didn’t need to be — not to go to the gym and not to attend a church service. If it is absolutely necessary for you to be on the road, you must ensure you dress properly for conditions and have additional safety and cold weather gear in your vehicle in case there is an emergency. Weather is often unpredictable and conditions can change rapidly. Don’t let a momentary lapse in judgment result in the permanent end of your life.
When traveling during winter, it’s a good idea to keep a cold-weather survival kit in your vehicle in case of an emergency. According to the Texas Department of Transportation, a good kit should include at least the following items:
- Blankets and warm clothes
- Shovel and scraper
- Flashlight and batteries
- Candles or Sterno flame
- Lighter or matches
- First-aid kit
- Booster cables
- Chain/tow strap
- Non-perishable food