Abandoned car? NC officials say don’t rush to retrieve it

akenney@newsobserver.com sgilman@newsobserver.comFebruary 13, 2014 

  • Finding your car

    To find information on abandoned cars, drivers can call a variety of agencies, depending on the vehicle’s location. Do not call emergency numbers, such as 911, for information on abandoned cars.

    •  For vehicles outside municipal boundaries, the Highway Patrol is keeping records, and owners can ask about their cars at 919-733-3861.

    •  In Durham, call 919-560-4427 for missing cars.

    •  The city of Raleigh urges drivers to look for their cars first. An informational hotline is available at 919-996-2999.

    •  The town of Chapel Hill has posted a list of abandoned cars on its Facebook page. If a vehicle can’t be found, drivers can call the police department at 919-968-2760.

— The effects of Wednesday’s paralyzing storm are still obvious along the Triangle’s roadways, as scores of abandoned cars remain parked just where they were left during the hourslong gridlock brought on by the snow.

The city of Durham counted more than 120 abandoned cars on Thursday, while Raleigh officials said it would be Friday before they knew how many littered the city’s streets.

With such a massive challenge, emergency responders focused first on injuries and stranded people, and on Thursday moved cars only when they blocked snowplow crews or traffic. Gov. Pat McCrory asked drivers to wait before recovering vehicles, and city and state officials said they would leave cars in illegal spots as long as the location was safe.

“We’re trying to avoid the word ‘towing.’ For most people, that means hiding it away somewhere,” Raleigh spokesman Mike Williams said. “We’re using the term ‘pulling’ – pulling away from dangerous situations.”

The city’s contracted tow crews, along with their counterparts around the region, aimed to keep cars within eyesight of their original location, taking them to the roads’ shoulders or nearby parking lots.

Raleigh will cover the towing costs within city limits, according to a police spokesman, while the state Department of Transportation will require drivers to pay for tows, a spokesman said. The potential cost of the tows wasn’t immediately clear on Thursday.

With state officials encouraging people to stay off the roads Thursday, the state had not set a deadline for drivers to retrieve their abandoned cars.

“We want to give those folks time to get to the cars safely and get them off the shoulders themselves,” DOT spokesman Steve Abbott said.

“The traffic was so packed”

The fast onset of the snow Wednesday caught thousands of people unaware, bringing traffic to a crawl on highways and hills. Tonya McCullers, 23, became ensnared in a bottleneck just south of downtown Raleigh around noon.

As McCullers idled on McDowell Street, her black Kia Optima ran out of gas.

“The traffic was so packed,” McCullers said, that she couldn’t get to a gas station. So, like hundreds of other people, she left the car to the deepening snow and thick white fog, catching a ride home with a friend.

The effect was eerie: By nightfall, darkened, snow-covered cars lined major roads and troublesome spots all across the Triangle, many strewn at odd angles.

On Thursday, McCullers found her Kia where she had left it. She and her friend Jonathan Edwards returned at 3 p.m., armed with a small can of gasoline. They emptied the gas can into McCullers’ tank and tried to get the car free. It wasn’t easy.

“Don’t go too far over there, because it’s ice!” Edwards called to McCullers as she tried to drive free. The rain that had fallen Thursday afternoon had melted the snow into mush, and the tires spun as McCullers pulled back and forth trying to get back onto the road. Even with Edwards pushing from behind, they made little headway.

Before long, a tow truck with Ace Towing and Recovery pulled alongside to help. After spinning the back tires on the tow truck, driver Shawn McCanna got out to help Edwards clear a path to McCullers’ car.

McCullers clapped her hands from the driver’s seat as the little car started to move. Finally, she was free from winter’s grip.

Kenney: 919-829-4870; Twitter: @KenneyNC

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