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With Roads A Slushy Mess, Durham Man Will Give You A Lift On His Four-Wheeler

Jamie O'Briant of Durham takes a break from his four-wheeler near a pile-up.
Jorge Valencia


That’s 25-year-old Jamie O’Briant. On Thursday, he turns on the engine to his 1997 Yamaha four-wheeler with a churn and sets out to deliver medicine to a friend nearby. Snow plows only carved a small channel up Woodcroft Parkway, so he’s driving on the side of the road to let cars pass. That’s when a guy trying to push a black Lexus asks him if he has a shovel.

 “I don’t,” O’Briant says. “But I’ll be happy to help.”

O’Briant gets off his four-wheeler. He leans up against the car. He pushes.

 “Go ahead,” he tells the driver. But the wheels spin and the car doesn’t budge.

“I’m just going to walk back,” the man says. “Thanks anyway. “

“Sorry I couldn’t help you out. Stay safe out there,” Briant says. As he walks away, he adds: “That’s tough. You know, you can help some people, but some people are really stuck.”

In fact, a lot of people were really stuck. The most significant snowfall in central North Carolina since the 2002 storm that left thousands without power for days descended with a double bite Thursday, punctuating an already cold, harsh and relentless winter. As many as eight inches blanketed the region, according to the National Weather Service.

Schools, government offices and many businesses shut their doors for a second day and planned to close again today as dozens of drivers who got stranded in the snow left their cars on roadways. Gov. Pat McCrory and local officials urged people to leave their cars until safe to drive them out. Only cars presenting an immediate safety threat would be towed or moved.

So people such as O’Briant, a teacher and coach at C.E. Jordan High School in Durham, looked to help people who got stranded far from home. On Wednesday, he offered people rides on his four-wheeler. He was out for nine hours and took more than 20 drivers to shelter at a local grocery store, he says. They mainly came from a 17-car pile-up on Woodcroft Parkway that he drove past on Thursday.

“There’s basically a spaghetti pile of cars,” he says as he drives up the hill. “There’s a narrow path and it’s going half way up the hill. There’s a hill may be 150, 250 yards going down hill. It’s a pretty bad scene.”

O’Briant steers around the pile-up, up a hill and turns left. He rides past a mother pulling a baby in a sled, past a family out for a walk. He arrives at the doorstep of Johnny Mangum, the friend who needed the medicine, hands him a bottle of motrin and asks: “So what’s wrong?”

“I don’t know,” Mangum says. “I stated limping on it last night, and I came up here across the pathway and I think I twisted it a little bit, but I’ll be OK. I’ll wrap it a little tighter.”

“Alright, man,” O’Briant says before he gets back on his Yamaha. “Y’all be safe.”

O’Briant rides back down Woodcroft  headed home. He spends the rest of Thursday riding his four-wheeler. And, because O’Briant’s Durham Public Schools are set to close again Friday, he’ll have another day away from work – he just might have to make it up on spring break.

Jorge Valencia has been with North Carolina Public Radio since 2012. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Jorge studied journalism at the University of Maryland and reported for four years for the Roanoke Times in Virginia before joining the station. His reporting has also been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Miami Herald, and the Baltimore Sun.
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