Local Jeeps and Wrenches members come to the aid of stranded motorists
When Mt. Juliet dad and husband Jeff Wilkins realized Wednesday evening what seemed a simple snow event had quickly turned wet roads into "ice skating rinks" in less than an hour, he called his wife Sarah and said he'd pick her and their son up from church.
North Mt. Juliet roads turned into a treacherous mess Wednesday, covered in a thick sheet of ice, rather than the more easily traversed snow-packed streets locals manipulated a few weeks back when it was with six troublesome inches of snow.
While our recent record snow was certainly nothing to sneeze at, Wilkins immediately knew Wednesday could turn into a horror movie for novice, nervous or simply inexperienced drivers trying to get home for the night.
Wilkins is intimately familiar with treacherous road conditions, and he has a 1993 Jeep Wrangler rigged to the highest to conquer road conditions. It also has a wench hooked up to help people get out of ditches they find themselves in during such weather. And Wednesday night he did just that.
"After I got my wife and son from church and got them back, I went out to see what I could do to help," Wilkins said.
Jeeps and Wrenches Rescue and Recovery Group
While Wilkins has been a good Samaritan lending his expertise and "'mean machine" to people stuck on a snowy or icy road for about 10 years, just about a month ago he officially joined the Jeeps and Wrenches Rescue and Recovery group. You could say he started in the club full force with the recent back-to-back snow events here in Wilson County.
"Last night I threw water bottles and blankets in the back of the jeep and my son Jacob and I set out to rescue people stranded, mostly on Nonaville and Saundersville Road," he said.
One of the first people he helped was a woman in a "little Porsche."
"She was on Nonaville Road and was already having a hard time," he said. "She asked me if I could follow her home. I don't think she wanted to leave her expensive car at the side of the road. When she went down that big hill she did two 360's, but she made it, and I followed her home and she got there."
The next person in need was a young woman named Chloe Poole.
"When I got to her car she was nearly hysterical on the phone with her dad," Wilkins said. "She had spun out several times on Nonaville Road and when she got to the top of the hill she just couldn't get herself to go down it, seeing all the other wrecks."
Wilkins found out Poole in the past had been in the hospital nine months as the result of a head-on collision and she was having flashbacks."
The young woman left a heartfelt message on a local social media site.
"Nonaville Road was solid ice with just about every car hydroplaning," she wrote Wednesday evening. "I want to give a huge thank you to Jeff and his son for rescuing me in their Jeep after I slid and had a panic attack from memories of a bad wreck a few years ago. They were just out there to help people as part of their group. We have some seriously awesome people in Mt. Juliet and I'm am home and so thankful."
Group willing to lend a hand
Wilkins and his son were part of a contingent of the Jeeps and Wrenches group out Wednesday night in the local area. Wilkins said "there are quite a few members in Mt. Juliet who will go at a drop of a hat to help people out."
He said he's always taken advantage of his Jeep when such conditions occur, and "it's so much better to be part of an organized effort instead of driving around aimlessly to rescue someone in need."
He said there's no charge for the service, and if someone offers him a few dollars, he'll just use it to fill up his tank so he can go to rescue the next person.
Mt. Juliet resident Brian Davis is one of the many founders of Jeeps and Wrenches rescue group. The president is Troy Marks, also local.
"The last big snow storm a few weeks ago, none of us got much sleep it was so crazy out there," Davis said.
He noted there are about 100 members of the rescue portion of the club started about two years ago, and recently there's been "so many more people wanting to be involved."
Most members are from the Nashville and surrounding county region. The eight-inch snow saw members out in force, taking nurses to hospitals to work, transporting (in tandem taking turns during legs) lifesaving medicine to Cookeville and delivering people to the hospital for care.
"It was non-stop then," Davis said.
He was in charge of dispatching members to people in need these last snow events. He wasn't in on the physical rescues because his Jeep was damaged a few days earlier in a non-weather related accident.
"I really wanted to be out there, but I know what I was doing was just as important. Getting people where they needed to be."
Requests for help have increased
Sadly, after that snow event people continued to call the members for "non-emergency" requests.
"So, we've learned we need to determine the severity of the need and dispatch accordingly," he said. "We want to rescue or deliver people safely, not help out on a run out for milk, so to speak."
Those who need assistance in real emergencies related to weather or disasters can join their Facebook group, be accepted by one of their administrators, and explain their rescue need.
"We have about 10 regulars in the Wilson County area, but at times some have come out here from Ashland City."
Both Wilkins and Davis said they get great satisfaction out of helping people out during times of need.
"They are so gracious and it makes us feel good to help," Davis said. "We've built these Jeeps to have fun, but we think we should use them to help out. It's about a sense of community."
Wilkins agreed. He spent about $200 in gas out of his own pocket during the six-inch snow. But, he said he really didn't mind. He rescued about 12 people during that time. His first rescue was pulling a Tennessee State Trooper out of a ditch on Nonaville Road. Wednesday night he rescued about four people.
"It was so treacherous because of the ice," he noted. "When I got out of my truck to hook a car up, I immediately fell. That rarely happens."
First rescue 10 years ago
He first non-rescue mission started it all for him about a decade ago when he rescued a lady driving a minivan in Mt. Juliet who was "just driving around to see the snow."
"Her tires were bald," he said. "I had to rescue her again the next night, and I told her she better not get out again on those tires."
His advice to drive on snowy roads is to "go slow and low," meaning don't rush and put the car in first gear.
"Don't worry about the people in back of you, take your time and let the car do what it needs to do," he said. "But truly, if you are not experienced, don't drive in it."
He said "let it snow, but if it's six to eight inches, what we had Wednesday night in North Mt. Juliet was a nightmare."
And, he said, on subsequent days people get "over confident," hit an icy patch then hit a dry patch and flip."
Wednesday night North Greenhill Road was closed, Wilkins said. Mt. Juliet Police Lt. Tyler Chandler said several roads were closed at times. He said there were about six official police reports related to property damage, but multiple other incidents related to the icy roads.
"The city salt trucks were out immediately," he said.
Son likes helping, too
He agreed with Wilkins and noted an Interstate 40 crash when a car spun out Wednesday because "the driver was overly confident."
Davis said their group does not rescue on the interstates and leaves that up to police and troopers.
Wilkins' 14-year-old son, Jacob, likes to go along for the rescues.
"He likes the idea of helping people," said his dad. "People are just so thankful and it makes us feel good. Yes, we like to play out in the snow, but this part of it is a whole other avenue and is rewarding."
Laurie Everett may be contacted at email@example.com.