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Responders struggle to aid stranded

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Motorists stuck on the side of the road had to wait longer when emergency workers struggled to drive on snow-covered roads.

On Wednesday morning, two snowplows slid off the road while clearing streets, and multiple police cars got stuck while responding to calls.

At least 60 motorists across the county reported sliding off the road Wednesday, and 12 accidents were reported by Wednesday afternoon.

Both the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office and the Greenwood Police Department were using either personal or department vehicles with four-wheel drive to travel the roads, instead of using their police cars.

Franklin officers continued to use their police cars, and multiple officers reported getting stuck while driving to accidents or reports of vehicles sliding off the road.

Franklin Police Department Lt. Kerry Atwood said one officer’s car got stuck while he was helping a resident whose car had slid off the road, and the truck that was towing the car also was having trouble with the snow.

“I wouldn’t advise anybody going out in this at all. And if they do, it needs to be a real emergency,” Atwood said.

The struggles local emergency workers were having was a key reason why Franklin, Greenwood and the county declared a snow emergency Wednesday morning. Their goal was to get motorists off the streets, so officers would not need to try to get to them when they slid off the road or got into an accident. Johnson County Commissioner Tom Kite said at least 7 inches of snow had fallen by 10:30 a.m. and was causing both residents’ and emergency officials’ cars to get stuck after sliding off the road.

Greenwood Assistant Police Chief Matt Fillenwarth said he used his own truck with four-wheel drive to respond to accidents and still had trouble driving on the roads.

Snowplows weren’t able to clear the roads fast enough, and drivers couldn’t see more than 100 feet in front of them, he said.

“We have officers out and responding. It’s just going to take a while even in a four-wheel-drive truck. I’m going 10 mph and can’t see the road,” he said.

Fillenwarth said he had seen one motorist pull out of an apartment complex parking lot and drive into a ditch because she couldn’t see the road.

He said the police department cannot help motorists much when they slide off the road because the department does not have its own tow truck. Motorists who got stuck in ditches or on the side of the road had to wait hours for a tow truck to come help Wednesday morning, Fillenwarth said.

Johnson County Sheriff Doug Cox said tow-truck companies were overwhelmed with the number of motorists who needed to be pulled out of the snow Wednesday, and some residents had gone out to help.

“People are out trying to make a little money and are pulling people out of ditches. It does help us out as long as they do it safely,” Cox said.

Local police officials said residents should stay off the roads during Wednesday’s storm, but if they had to leave their homes, they should carry blankets, flashlights, food and a fully-charged cellphone.

Motorists also should make sure they know where they are if they do get stuck, so they can tell towing companies their location, Atwood said.

And Fillenwarth said people should wear warm clothing and bring extra clothes in case they encounter that situation.

“You need to dress for the weather. Dress like you’ll be sitting in your car for about three hours, because if you do need a wrecker, you’re going to be waiting,” Fillenwarth said.

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