STAFFORD, Va. (WRIC) — 8News is continuing to take action for the hundreds of drivers who were stranded on I-95 with no food or water nearly a month ago. According to internal emails obtained by 8News, a county administrator begged for the National Guard’s help but the request was ignored.
For weeks, state officials have said that no localities requested the National Guard as drivers remained stuck in the cold, some for more than 24 hours.
Newly released 9-1-1 dispatch calls obtained by 8News display the desperation in Caroline County on I-95 beginning early in the morning on Jan. 3 as the storm worsened. “I just saw a car spin off in front of me and go into the ditch,” one caller reported to a dispatcher. “I want to report multiple car accidents on I-95… it looks like somebody could be hurt,” another person reported.
8News has listened to just a handful of the 2,100 emergency calls the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office tells us they got over a two-day period during the first Winter storm of the season in Virginia.
Among the first callers on the morning of Monday, Jan. 3 was a motorist who dialed 911 in Stafford at 7:27 a.m.
Call logs revealed people reported being stuck almost a full day before VDOT closed the affected part of the interstate to move people stranded and prevent others from joining the clutter.
“There’s so much traffic and we just stuck here. The roads, it haven’t been treated and the conditions are bad,” one person told a Stafford dispatcher.
Desperation didn’t only come from people on the interstate itself. Internal emails granted to 8News through a Freedom Of Information Act request (FOIA) show a county administrator asked the state for the National Guard’s assistance, which contradicts many state officials.
Just after midnight on Jan. 4, more than 12 hours into the backup, concerned Stafford County Administrator Frederick Presley emailed two VDOT officials for help.
“I have just been told by my staff in the EOC that the state is not taking the steps necessary to address the
situation of stranded motorist and vehicles on the highways,” he wrote. “Without 100 percent action, to include the National Guard if necessary, our emergency personnel can’t get to the people that need our assistance. These people have been stranded all day. What is being done now to address this emergency at the state level? What can we do to assist you to get the resources needed? These people news our help now,” the email from Presley said.
VDOT’s Marcie Parker replied back within 20 minutes.
“VDOT crews and contractors have been actively engaged in snow removal on the Interstate all day. The rate of snowfall was too fast to keep up with. Numerous accidents and disabled trucks have blocked the Interstate for the majority of the day,” Parker said. “As some would clear, others would occur. Traffic was unable to clear out before additional incidents would occur. For the past couple of hours we have been working with Virginia State Police to clear the latest 20+ disabled vehicles and treat the roads to allow traffic to pass. Additional resources were brought in from other areas of the state to help clear the Interstate.”
In the email, she did not address his ask of the National Guard. On the same day, state officials like VDEM spokesperson Lauren Opett said no localities requested the extra help.
“I don’t even believe we had any requests overnight. If we had one, it may have been one, but it wasn’t for anything related to the National Guard or any of those services,” Opett said.
In response to this story, a VDEM official said the Stafford county administrator’s request was not completed correctly.
“Official requests for assistance go through our system of record (known as WebEOC), from the localities to the VDEM regional staff. No official request was made for the Guard until Thursday, January 6, which was to help with the ongoing recovery from the January 3rd storm and to prepare for the January 6th storm,” the statement read.