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Kevin Bonham, Forum News Service, Published April 01 2014

Plows clear path through I-29 east of Grafton for stranded travelers, sheriff

GRAND FORKS – Walsh County Sheriff Lauren Wild was stranded along Interstate 29 east of Grafton for about six hours during a blizzard Monday night while attempting to rescue a pair of travelers.

It took two snowplows, clearing a 25-mile path from Grand Forks to Exit 172 and back, to get Wild and the stranded travelers to safety.

Wild responded to the initial call late Monday afternoon, and tried to reach them in his four-wheel-drive vehicle.

“They had about a quarter-tank of gas when we got the call,” Wild said Tuesday.

Officially, I-29 was closed at the time. It was closed at 12:30 p.m. Monday between Grand Forks and the Canadian border. It reopened at 7:30 a.m. Tuesday.

The northbound travelers, who live in the Winnipeg area, were stranded at about milepost 170.

“I made it as far as 172, but I couldn’t make it any farther. And I couldn’t back up,” the sheriff said.

He had a full tank of fuel and was in constant contact with his office, so he was not too concerned about his own safety. However, the stranded motorists were not as fortunate.

“They ran out of gas around 9 or 9:30,” he said. “That’s when everything changed.”

Bad road

Wild got in touch with the North Dakota Department of Transportation’s district office in Grand Forks.

Lincoln Marshall, NDDOT district transportation services supervisor, and operator Britton Smith responded, each driving a large snowplow north on I-29.

“The drifts were 3 or 4 feet deep,” Marshall said. “We got there at about 11:30. We actually found the motorists first. We stopped at the car. They were in the car and they were cold.”

Since the NDDOT trucks do not have room for passengers, he said, they continued to where Wild’s vehicle was stranded, to bring help to the motorists.

“We could see the vehicle from where we were,” Marshall said.

Then, they plowed southward in the northbound lane, with the sheriff following in his vehicle. The stranded motorists rode with Wild.

But the rescue mission was not finished yet.

As they approached Exit 152 at Manvel, they saw a pickup in the ditch.

They rescued a lone driver, who also climbed into Wild’s vehicle for the trip to Grand Forks.

“He was trying to get on the interstate at Manvel,” said Marshall, a five-year NDDOT veteran snowplow operator.

Smith, who is in his second winter as an NDDOT snowplow operator, said Monday he hasn’t experienced any worse conditions on the job.

“The visibility was really bad. It was hard to even stay on the road, because the road was covered with snow,” he said. “And it was hard-packed snow. It was throwing the truck around a bit. You hit those drifts and it just jolts your truck.”

Wild and the Winnipeg travelers stayed overnight in Grand Forks motels.

Wild said Marshall and Smith deserve a lot of credit for guiding them to safety.

“I can’t say enough about them,” Wild said. “They did an absolutely tremendous job. “They were working pretty much around the clock, and when they got to us, it was nothing but smiles.”