Franklin native spends night in car

Published 11:26 am Friday, January 31, 2014

ATLANTA—It normally only takes 15 minutes.

Shellia Baxter

Shellia Baxter

But getting home after finishing work Tuesday afternoon took 24 hours for Franklin native Sheila R. Baxter, as the interstates and highways in the area were gridlocked to a standstill by a winter storm.

Baxter, who works at the Atlanta Veterans Hospital as a chaplain for homeless veterans, got off work early at 4 p.m.

“When I got out on Georgia 166, it was jam-packed,” she said, adding that it had been snowing since noon, but it was light snow. “The temperatures had dropped, but I didn’t think it would be a problem, as I only live 15 minutes away from work.”

That would be the start of her adventure, as it took her two hours to move 1 mile on Ga. 166.

“One thing about the Atlanta area is that there are a lot of hills, and cars were not able to get traction going up the roads as it started to freeze up,” she said. “And the temperature was dropping steadily every 30 minutes.”

At 11 p.m., she had managed to go 2 miles, and she decided to try Interstate 285, to see if it was moving any faster.

“I quickly realized that was a major mistake. It was jammed too,” Baxter said. “I ended up having to spend the night on 285 in my car.”

Though she did not have any food, Baxter said that there was a blessing.

“I did have a full tank of gas at the start,” she said, and by the time she made it to 285, she still had half a tank. “I was out there all night, and I was able to keep warm.”

She also had water — about four jars of it. So she slept at 30-minute intervals, turning the car on for 15-minute intervals to keep warm.

She passed the time by talking on the phone with family and friends, and listening to the State of the Union Address on the radio.

“I was not worried because I am a Christian, plus with my training from the military, I had learned survival skills,” said Baxter, who is a retired U.S. Army Brigadier General. “I woke up at about 6 a.m. that morning, and we had not moved at all.”

That morning, probably about 10 minutes from her house if traffic was moving, another blessing came.

“This young man came, I called him an angel,” Baxter said. “He saw us from his apartment and climbed over the barrier. He walked one mile to the store for us to get us supplies.

“There were other good people who wanted to help. That young man’s grandmother was inside, cooking oatmeal for us. She brought that out, and was passing out juice and lemonade. There were two young ladies who walked to the store and brought bananas, yogurt and water. I saw a lot of good Samaritans — a lot of good people out there who wanted to help.”

The exit to her home was near, but there was no going forward, as many people had ran out of gas and abandoned their cars, plus jackknifed 18-wheelers were also blocking lanes. At around noon on Wednesday, a group of drivers stuck decided to turn their cars around and head back to an exit.

“We were able to get out back at that exit ramp — there were about 10 of us,” she said. “That was a blessing.”

From there, she took some backroads, which were not completely cleared, toward her house. At around 4 p.m., 24 hours after leaving work, she finally saw her home.

“Oh my God — I was so happy,” Baxter said. “I just sat on my couch for a minute, just to reflect and thank God. He helped me survive.”

She also thought about the homeless veterans she served as a chaplain.

“I had to go through this because of the clients that I support and serve,” Baxter said. “They are homeless, helpless and they get hungry. I needed to go through that, so I could identify with them.

“I will be able to share during Sunday morning worship.”

Baxter said she never panicked during the experience.

“Over the years in the Army, you learn to be patient,” she said. “I was not too upset about the experience. I did want to get home, but it also taught me a lot about people, and how they are during a crisis. That’s what I’ll take away from this incident.”

Another thing she’ll take away is something she wanted to leave with others.

“Make sure you keep your car on full, and always have a pack of water in your car in case,” she said. “Always have some kinds of snacks in the car. You never know what is going to happen.”