Stranded Landair Truck Driver Finds Ways To Help Others In Midst Of Atlanta's Storm
BY SARAH R. GREGORY
As the old saying goes, a friend in need is a friend indeed -- and Landair Transport Inc. driver Kenny McGee made plenty of friends earlier this week by helping other motorists when black ice brought Atlanta traffic to a halt for hours.
McGee, who lives in Oneida but drives out of Greeneville, was returning to Atlanta from Washington, D.C., as part of his route Tuesday when a winter storm rolled into the Atlanta area, bringing sub-freezing temperatures, two inches of snow and black ice with it.
Interstate highways and other roadways in the area essentially shut down, leaving miles of motorists stranded for hours.
The Associated Press reported that Georgia law enforcement officials responded to nearly 1,500 accidents between Tuesday morning and Wednesday evening, with innumerable vehicles stranded in ditches, or on shoulders or medians of highways and roads.
BUMPER-TO-BUMPER FOR MILES
McGee said in a telephone interview with The Greeneville Sun on Thursday that he pulled into Atlanta around 4 p.m. Tuesday, then spent the next 21 hours stuck in five lanes of bumper-to-bumper traffic that stretched for dozens of miles on Interstate 285.
"It was a mess," he said, adding that the situation grew more serious after daybreak Wednesday when reports of motorists without food, water or fuel began to come over radio waves more frequently.
An officer from the Clayton County Police Department stuck in traffic on the road's shoulder near McGee's truck helped coordinate emergency operations in the immediate area.
HOURS SPENT HELPING
For the next several hours, McGee worked with law enforcement personnel and National Guard members to push vehicles from ditches and buy and distribute bottles of water and snacks.
He also made trips on foot along a one-mile stretch to fill containers with gas to help those running low on fuel.
As members of Landair management put it, "Instead of worrying about where, when or how he was going to get out of this situation, Kenny focused his efforts on assisting others."
A 'HIGHWAY HERO'
An email exchanged between some managers at Landair praised McGee for being a "highway hero," while noting that his willingness to help and his "infectious personality" resulted in new friendships during the ordeal.
"Kenny has always gone above and beyond to make sure he represents himself and Landair Transport in a first-class manner," Operations Manager Sasha Catron told The Greeneville Sun Wednesday.
McGee's Good Samaritan-style actions, Catron added, "didn't surprise any of us here because we see his actions in different ways every day.
"We need more Kenneth McGees out and about to set examples of how we can grow to become better individuals."
NOT THE FIRST TIME
McGee, however, sees his response to the situation as "just another day at the office."
In McGee's 13 years of trucking, he says he's been through similar storms in Pennsylvania, Ohio and one of the Dakotas. (After so many miles it's hard for him to recall now whether it was North Dakota or South Dakota.)
Persevering through dangerous conditions and helping other drivers when possible is just something most truck drivers do, he said.
"We deal with it every winter. We expect it every winter. We stock our trucks up for it every winter," he said.
"We try to plan for it and time our trips to miss storms, but you just cannot predict mother nature."
PRAISE FOR ALL RESPONDERS
McGee said he felt Georgia officials made a mistake in not pre-treating much of the roadway in advance of the storm, but he praised all the emergency crews -- local and state -- involved in response to the storm.
"The State of Georgia and surrounding counties and the National Guard did a wonderful job of getting it cleaned up," he said.
He also said National Guard members were "exceptional" in efforts to achieve their top priority of getting children off stranded school buses and into warm shelters.
But, as for his own involvement, even though others have praised it as exceptional, McGee says it was just the right thing to do.
"When others are in need, you have to make a move to assist them. I've been raised that way, and I'm never going to change," he said.