Bonaire man hailed a hero for helping stranded Atlanta motorists

pramati@macon.comJanuary 30, 2014 

Jason Patrick doesn’t wear a cape or an “S” on his shirt, but to many motorists stuck Tuesday and Wednesday alongside Atlanta’s frozen roads, it doesn’t make him any less of a superhero.

“He’s like an angel from God,” said Douglas Hart, 59, of Atlanta, the first of several people Patrick helped during the snow and ice storm while going 42 hours without sleep. “He certainly was the answer to my prayers. No one else was able to help. The police couldn’t do anything. But he came along in his big, four-wheel drive.”

Hart’s situation was especially dire, since he takes a lot of medication related to a stroke he suffered three and a half years ago. He got caught in his work vehicle near Fulton Industrial Boulevard between 9 and 10 p.m. Tuesday. Hart said police were too overwhelmed to help him much, even though Hart went eight hours without taking medicine to control his blood pressure and other essential functions.

Patrick, 41, a roofer in Bonaire, had only gone to Atlanta to take advantage of an invitation that state Rep. Larry O’Neal, R-Bonaire, had extended to the admitted political activist. Patrick’s plan was to stay in Atlanta for the week to watch the Legislature in session and sit in on a few committee meetings.

Patrick was on his way to a friend’s home where he was staying for the week. What should have been a 20-minute drive took four hours, and along the way there were many motorists who were stuck. Patrick, who used to live in Seattle and was used to icy road conditions, offered to help push some cars and drive others out of the frozen patches himself.

By the time Patrick returned to the friend’s house and had dinner, another friend told him about a Facebook page set up for people who were stranded in various parts of Atlanta.

“I’d been home for about an hour and a half, and I felt compelled to help,” he said, adding that Hart’s medical condition made his decision to go out into the mess an easy one. “(Hart) was about 11 miles away, but it took me 40 minutes or so to get there.”

Hart was the first person Patrick gave a ride home, but he wouldn’t be the last. In all, Patrick said he gave lifts to a dozen different motorists and was still helping through 11:30 p.m. Wednesday. In addition to giving rides and freeing trapped vehicles, Patrick also took food to a motorist who hadn’t eaten in 21 hours.

After taking someone else home, Patrick got a Facebook message at about 3 a.m. Wednesday asking for help from Brandi Underwood, 33, of Atlanta, who had been trapped in her vehicle since 3:30 p.m. Tuesday on Langford Parkway in southwest Atlanta.

Underwood is eight months pregnant.

“I left work at 1:30 (p.m. Tuesday), and all the lanes on (Interstate) 85 southbound were blocked,” said Underwood, a manager of a nonprofit agency. So she decided to take Langford Parkway. “Traffic was at a standstill. I went about one mile in six hours.”

She contacted Patrick and 911 and decided she would go with whomever got to her first, which was the ambulance. But the ambulance was parked a quarter of a mile away, and Underwood was unwilling to risk walking on the ice. The EMT told her it would be hours before he could drive his ambulance to her car. He took her vital signs to make sure she was OK, but he didn’t have any food or supplies to give her.

Underwood had no food, and her gas was running low, forcing her to turn off the car’s ignition for extended periods to preserve fuel.

She said she talked several times to Patrick, who said he would help her despite the roads being iced over.

It took him hours to reach her car, and he didn’t arrive until daybreak Wednesday. At one point, he had to drive in the wrong direction of an off-ramp, so he could pull his truck near her.

When Patrick arrived, he discovered the stretch of road was a divided highway, with a wall 7 feet high on his side of the road and a 5-foot wall on Underwood’s side.

Patrick drove his truck perpendicular to the wall, so the front of it touched the wall, in order to make it easier to climb down. He also enlisted the aid of several truckers who also were stuck. Each of them had a metal tool box that was about a foot tall, and they formed a makeshift set of stairs to help her climb over the two walls.

“I was shaking, but everyone reassured me that they wouldn’t let me fall,” Underwood said. “Everybody was very supportive. It felt good.”

After she made it over the top of one wall, the helpers tossed the toolboxes over the wall to make another set of steps to help Underwood down. Patrick then drove her to a nearby friend’s house at 9 a.m.

“So many people don’t care anymore,” Underwood said. “He’s just a guy with a truck. He’s very innovative in his thinking. He was very calming to me in a very upsetting situation.”

Patrick remains humble in his attitude. He even refused the $20 Hart offered him for gas.

“This guy is something else,” Hart said. “He’s a hero. He loves doing this. You don’t see a lot of people willing to do this.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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