When hundreds of cars and trucks were stuck on Interstate 95 in Virginia earlier this week, an Ottawa truck driver who was in the thick of things eagerly lent a helping hand to those in need.
Matthew Marchand, a company driver who hauls a tanker for Premier Bulk Systems, was stopped for hours as a blizzard dumped snow that later froze causing crashes that closed the highway.
The Ottawa driver began his day on Jan. 3 morning, near the Mason-Dixon line, between Maryland and Pennsylvania. He heard about a storm but didn’t think much of it. “I drive through snowstorms all the time,” he said.
He drove only 120 miles that day, the first 90 miles were done in about an hour and half. Things started to slow down in Maryland by the Baltimore area. The I-95 was still passable, but conditions were treacherous. Marchand helped dig out about four or five cars that were stuck on the shoulder or lanes filled with snow.
Crossing into Virgina, the situation got worse. Driving a 15-mile stretch of road took him six-and-half hours, and traffic came to a halt at mile marker 140. It was about 6:45 p.m.
Marchand set the brakes and did his post-trip. He then went around chatting with other truck and four-wheeler drivers who were parked around his rig.
“Most people were okay with their fuel situations, so could keep their vehicles running. Most of the four-wheel drivers were not carrying food or water,” he said.
Among those stuck was an off-duty firefighter who had not eaten all day. Marchand handed him the only pre-packaged food he had – cheese crisps.
Marchand typically does his groceries a couple of days into his trip. He had left home on Jan. 2, so did not have any groceries in his truck.
“I am one of the more prepared truck drivers. I was caught with my pants down so to speak, because I didn’t do my groceries, normally I probably would have had enough food to distribute to other people,” he said.
He cooks on the road and was carrying meals for himself for the next three or four days.
A Tesla was parked near his truck and Marchand, a father of four kids, was concerned because there were children in the vehicle. The family from Georgia was not accustomed to winter weather. They were travelling home after visiting relatives in Boston.
An exhausted Marchand finally fell asleep in his bunk, but an hour later there was a knock on the door. It was the Tesla driver asking if it was possible to charge his car using the truck as a power source. Marchand explained his truck does not generate that much electricity.
The driver then asked for water and Marchand gave him some.
“I was about to get back into bed and I realized that it was very cold outside. If he’s talking about charging his car, and if he runs out of charge, that could be bad because he’s got kids in the car,” Marchand said.
He grabbed a spare blanket and a Mylar emergency blanket from his first aid kit and brought it to them. He told them not to worry and things would get moving in the morning. He also told them if the electric car shuts down, there was room in his truck for them to stay warm.
He says the Tesla driver asked, “Are you a God?” Marchand says he thinks he meant ‘were you sent by God?’
Marchand told him, “I am just a guy. God puts the right people at the right place at the right time. We don’t always see it.”
Marchand said he and the Tesla driver were both choked up after that exchange.
He went back to bed. Vehicles began moving by 6:30 a.m. on Jan 4. Marchand says the Virginia Department of Transportation was not communicating effectively. Their Twitter feed said state troopers were being sent to check on people. “I didn’t see a state trooper till 6:30 in the morning,” he says.
Marchand says being prepared is key to travelling down the road, especially in winter. He carries a Naloxone kit for drug overdoses, traffic wands, two fire extinguishers, two lifejackets, and a water throw rope (he used to run Highway 17 in Ontario that hugs the water). He also has lots of water on board and a water filtration system.
He also urges people driving cars to carry a first aid kit, jumper cables, shovel, food, water, warm clothing, and blankets. “Make sure to fill your gas tank,” he advises.
Marchand is presently trucking through Georgia, documenting his travels on Twitter via @myworldtaw (My World Through A Windshield).