FREDERICKSBURG, Va. (WRIC) — Harrowing 911 calls from panicked drivers on Interstate 95 reveal that callers were reporting that they were stranded 22 hours before the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) announced it was shutting down a section of highway.
8News has listened to just a handful of the 2100 emergency calls the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office says 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.
“Apparently there’s like a semi stuck at the top of a hill and it’s backing traffic up on to 95 and people are starting to get out of their cars,” they told dispatchers.
That call was forwarded to Virginia State Police.
At 7:46 another driver tells 911, “There’s like two regular cars and one like box truck that are stuck and one is about to go into a ditch.”
The snowstorm had only just begun. She goes on to say, “There’s no police cars, there’s nothing like that right now.”
It was only hours into the Jan. 3 storm and already 911 calls for help were flooding the Stafford County dispatch center.
At about 8:02 a.m. a dispatch answers another call. “Stafford 911 what’s the emergency?”
The caller immediately asks, “Yes, can we get a plow or something at the Garrisonville exit?”
Multiple drivers can be heard in the early hours of the storm reporting accidents as well as cars or trucks stuck in the snow. This caller reported, “There’s like about a 10 to 15 car pileup off of I-95.”
Some callers appear frantic, telling 911 they were stranded with their children in the car and running out of gas. The same driver said, “There’s so much traffic and we just stuck here here. And the roads haven’t been treated and the conditions are bad.”
The Caroline County Sheriff’s Office tells us they were also inundated with calls from drivers stuck on I-95. We’re told their dispatchers worked 26 hours straight fielding calls and transferring them to State Police. 8News has filed of Freedom of Information Act request to see when the calls started to come in to Caroline and Spotsylvania County.
At 8:55 am this call came in making it clear drivers are stuck. The dispatcher said, “Stafford 911 what’s the emergency?”
The caller replied, “Hi, so I’ve been stranded for a while.”
However, VDOT didn’t announce it was shutting down the 40-mile stretch of 95 to move people out and prevent others from getting stuck in interstate disaster until close to 6 a.m. the next day.
At 8:44 am a caller asked 911, “Do you know if they are like going to plow the roads or anything?”
The dispatcher replied, “I don’t know because it is not maintained by us here in Stafford. It’s a VDOT thing.”
8News reached back out to VDOT today asking why the agency didn’t close the interstate sooner. VDOT spokesperson Kelly Hannon told 8News, “Our after action review is still underway.”
VDOT says it will address questions about their response and the timeline of events. We’re told the review will be made public.