Cell phone helps woman keeps wits in snowstorm Coloradan is rescued after 24 hours trapped in car

October 28, 1997|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- For two days, 20-year-old Kristyn Stimits had done everything she could to keep herself going while awaiting rescue from her snowbound car.

She tried to give rescue workers directions by cellular phone.

She phoned her mother and her boyfriend for support.

She honked so that somebody might hear her.

And she prayed.

Finally, as Saturday turned to Sunday, and the battery finally died on her car, Stimits huddled beneath some loose carpeting and closed her eyes.

After more than 24 hours trapped on the side of a desolate road near Calhan, Colo., she had made a decision.

"If I was going to die, I was going to sleep through it," she said.

The autumn blizzard that buried the Rockies and the Plains left hundreds of thousands of people without electricity yesterday after trees that hadn't lost their leaves collapsed under the weight of heavy snow, the Associated Press reported.

Up to 8 inches of snow blanketed parts of Michigan early yesterday before the remnants of the storm blew northeastward into Canada.

Colorado got nearly 4 1/2 feet over the weekend, and Nebraska received 23 inches. At least 13 deaths in seven states were blamed on the weather.

Like so many others, Stimits had ignored the snow that had begun to fall Friday afternoon. After getting off work in Colorado Springs, she headed east to her boyfriend's home near Calhan.

When her Mitsubishi Eclipse careened off U.S. 24, she used her cell phone to call 911. It was about 10 p.m. Somebody would be out there to help her in an hour or two, she was told.

Her car had about a half tank of gas, so she kept the engine running for warmth, the passenger's side window cracked to keep the carbon monoxide fumes from poisoning her.

As she waited, calling 911 every half-hour for updates as to where help was, the snow streamed in the car window, melting into a puddle that rose to the level of the passenger's seat.

Finally, about 2: 30 a.m. Saturday, she called 911 again; this time she was told that nobody would be able to rescue her until morning.

Panic began to set in -- a panic that would wax and wane for another 24 hours.

"I didn't think they would be able to find me," she said.

She listened to a country music station, but mostly she stayed on the phone -- first with her boyfriend, then her mother, finally with anyone who would listen.

"I just kept calling 911 until they put me through to someone," she said. "I was fine as long as I was talking to someone on the phone."

She kept trying to give rescue workers a clue about her location. All she could remember was a single sign that said "Pavement ends."

Around sunset Saturday, the sky started clearing and she saw a telephone pole and a gate outside the car -- then a light. "Just being able to see made me feel a lot better," she said.

Soon, her cell phone began dying.

Later, when a phone connection was re-established, Stimits was told to honk her horn at 10: 30 p.m. No one heard her. Then her car battery died, and along with it, her phone. "I just knew nobody was going to find me," she said.

That's when she covered herself with the loose carpeting and closed her eyes.

Hours passed; then suddenly she was awakened. "I just saw light, so I sat up," she said.

Then she heard a voice: "You can get out."

Get out?

"I just shot out of the car," Stimits recalls.

Waiting for her was a team of rescue workers that included Calhan firefighters. She spent the night at the Calhan fire station; as for her car, she didn't want to know what happened to it.

"I don't even want to see my car again," she said.

Pub Date: 10/28/97

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