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How an NC man and others spent 7 hours stranded on I-85

You’re stuck in traffic for hours without real food, no drink and no specific time of your return home. What would you do? A resident of the Charlotte area tweeted live his story of surviving trafficking.

Many “tired, stressed, cranky and hungry people” waited more than six hours for southbound traffic to clear up on Interstate 85 near Spartanburg, SC, Tom Gardner of Mooresville said in a video that he posted on Twitter on Saturday night.

In the 35-second clip, Gardner and other drivers stand along the median barriers of the freeway.

“No one contacted us and no one told us what was going on,” Gardner said in the video.

Private Joel Hovis tweeted at 4:27 p.m., about two hours before Gardner’s video, that the South Carolina Highway Patrol was working on five crashes on I-85 between mile markers 91 and 86 in Cherokee County. Hovis’ tweet warned drivers of a road blockage at km 86 northbound and “in several places” on the southbound lane.


A trip to the in-laws

Gardner, his wife and their 8-year-old daughter were traveling south to visit his mother-in-law in Spartanburg until traffic suddenly stopped, he told The Observer on Monday.

“I was hoping it would be less than an hour,” said Gardner, who teaches political science at Chamberlain University, an Illinois-based nursing school based in Charlotte.

At 12:11 a.m., an hour of traffic, Gardner tweeted at South Carolina Department of Transportation Piedmont Region for an update on an accident reported an hour earlier on I-85 southbound. SCDOT did not respond.

At 2:14 p.m., now three hours of traffic, Gardner tweeted again to SCDOT for an update. Again, no answer.

Tweets by Tom Gardner on Saturday, May 1, 2021

Gardner’s wife then called his mother to pick her up and their daughter at the front of the road where the blockage started – leaving him alone in the car with three bottles of water, a Starbucks cake pop and them. His daughter’s leftover peanut butter crackers, he mentioned.

“When I got off the freeway, I practically stopped and immediately grabbed some food,” Gardner said.

If someone were to get stuck on the freeway for seven hours, Gardner said Saturday’s 68-degree sunny weather would be ideal. He and others even turned off their vehicles for a while.

“It was hot outside, but people weren’t dying,” he says. “I’ve never been below half a tank [of gas]. “

Gardner said he and about 10 other drivers would get out of their cars, sit and talk while they waited for traffic to clear. He said people would walk past traffic and come back 40 minutes later with updates.

“Everyone really came together and showed kindness and patience,” Gardner said. “We were all tired and cranky, but no one was threatening anyone or losing their temper.”

After a few more tweets to SCDOT Piedmont and six hours of traffic, Gardner recorded his video. He tweeted two hours after the video that he and the other drivers were stuck in traffic for a total of seven hours.

‘A busy Saturday’

Hovis, the SC soldier, told the Observer on Monday that four of the collisions were in the south lane, where Gardner filmed the video; the fifth incident occurred in the northbound lane. Motorists involved in the collisions sustained injuries, but none endangered their lives, Hovis said.

“It was very difficult for a lot of people coming that way,” Hovis said. “When you have a collision, especially when there are injuries, it takes a while to heal. First and foremost, injured people have priority, and then you have to worry about clearing the lanes so that traffic can move. “

Widening work on I-85 in Cherokee and Spartanburg counties from mile marker 77 to the North Carolina line is expected last well in 2021, according to the SCDOT.

Hovis said he was not sure whether the construction work contributed to traffic on Saturday as he could not remember how many people were working on the highway at the time.

“It was a busy Saturday in Cherokee County,” he said.

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